Friday, 15 June 2007

Is leadership development an oxymoron?

If authentic leaders are a consequence of their early life experiences does this mean that leadership development books, tapes, learning programs and business consultants are a waste of time? And does this explain why so few of them are not sticky?

I came across this theme on David Maister’s blog were he reviews George and Sims book True North which is a follow-up to George's Authentic Leadership book. George describes 125 authentic leaders and concludes that they demonstrate 5 key attributes:

1. Pursuing Purpose with Passion

2. Practicing Solid Values

3. Leading with the Heart

4. Establishing Connected Relationships

5. Demonstrating Self-Discipline

The notion is that there leaders were successful because of who they were rather than being the product of years of experience and development.

This begs the question, if authentic leaders are the product of their early years can mere mortals develop the 5 attributes or is Leadership development a lost cause?

10 comments:

Paddy said...

Going by what's being said about "authentic" leaders being a consequence of their early life experiences, I must say that the 'thesis' is short on detail. It's okay to ask a question but I notice quite frequently in company meetings that I attend regarding project work that many people ask questions without explaining in detail where there are coming from. That is, some of these questions are somewhat unscientific in their wording or detail. By unscientific I mean they appear to be asked from an unknowledgeable position on the subject in question. You could say that little research went into the question before it was asked. Thus, at times, giving others the view that the person asking the question knows little about the subject. I saying this purely on the basis that a lot of time is wasted from a lack of knowledge about certain areas that HR deals with and that talk is cheap.

The 5 key attributes can be achieved by any person given the right consequences. For example, in developing as a young person you might be "given" the wrong values in life, such as bad manners, poor discipline and so on. This could lead to you going in a certain 'direction' in life later on, which may not lend itself to attaining those 5 attributes. In that instance you could say that person may not make a good leader based on those 5 attributes. But if that person wants to change and gain those 5 attributes can it be said that it is impossible?

Am I ranting or making sense? I'm all in favour of leadership in business in terms of spiritual, behavioral, ethical and intellectual. What makes up those terms is more than I can write here, but reading your article in People Management magazine makes me believe that you learnt to be a leader or perhaps, without knowing you, certain qualities that would lend themselves to being a 'leader' were part of you all along.

Lisa said...

The million dollar question - with a million dollar picture attached. Love it!

Patricia said...

Your POV strikes me as naive. "Building networks," "pursuing passion" and so on requires skill. One may have all the good intention in the world, be full of passion and wish to network, and lack the requisite skills.

Even those who have great natural talent can learn more.

In fact, I believe "a practice of lifelong learning" is another leadership trait that should be listed.

Scott said...

Great comments on this topic, really interesting thank you.

I agree that the hypothesis, at first, glace appears naive. However, look at the facts – the 125 in George’s work do have something in common and as the author states “these people were formed and forged through their early life experiences.”.

The other interesting thing is that large numbers of CEO’s in the UK and US also come from very similar backgrounds (very simply - Oxbridge and the big 4 and McKinsey and Harvard). So perhaps what Maister is describing is leadership discrimination, where learning will only take you so far?

The other aspect of this discussion that fascinates me concerns what it may mean in the "knowledge" age? As I have posted before, I believe that we are in the early stages of a revolution where human capital will be replaced by knowledge power.

This would render the "early years" notion obsolete (true or otherwise), as learning must surely become the secret sauce within the futures intellect hierarchies?

Rednose said...

If we look at Scott as the example of a leader it's fine, because he does have some great and key aspects to him that would place him as one of the future leaders that he's describing.
However, I'd place Scott in a different place, possibly as the man behind the leader. Who's to say that Nelson was as smart as we all think he was. More than likely it was those behind him that made him look good.
And if we look at today, the people that "Lead" all have a cabinet behind them.
So possibly, the term leader has never actually been applicable and the trading capital has always been knowledge, merely the knowledge is in the hands of people that would usually not have had it.

David Zinger said...

This was a cheeky post.

I don't believe development is either/or. If you are authentic you can develop more and further as a leader.

The development of leadership might help you tap into your authenticity.

At 52, I think it take a number of years (for me about 52) to become yourself.

David Zinger

Rednose said...

Hi S

Just wondering if you'd found this yet.

http://www.micropersuasion.com/

CityUnslicker said...

but the real question is are enough people 'born' with these skills to meet the number of leadership jobs.

I would argue not, hence the need for development of those not natrually up to scratch.

Rob Robson said...

Who they were?

Who they are?

or

Who they could be?

Putting this in the realm of early development suggests the first, whereas current performance is about the second, and is entirely changeable, which means that we mustn't ever forget the third.

This is the rationale for leadership development.

Lisa Lawson said...

nice post...........
Leadership Development