By Zina Sutch and Patrick Malone
Leadership development has a long, biased, and somewhat misogynistic history. There, we said it. From the “Great Man” theory forward, philosophies of what makes great leaders have often focused on variables such as the role of social context, traits and attributes of great leaders, and whether or not great leaders are born or made.
Meanwhile, companies invest millions each year in leadership development. A recent report notes that spending on training programs may be as high as $50 billion each year. The variation is extreme. Some companies spend more than $10,000 per person per year on leadership development while others budget for under $4,000 annually. The vast majority of organisations (94%) will keep the same spending levels or increase them in the future.
Leadership development matters, however well-meaning organisations across the country often struggle with the undertaking. When there is money to burn, the intention is often to simply spend away without serious thought as to who, how, and why a firm would want to build its leadership cadre. Chief Learning Officers and training specialists create selection processes involving interviews and applications in hopes of selecting the right people in which to invest, but the selection process is often fraught with bias from the beginning.
Some organizations pick the most senior people to send to pricey programs with nary an eye toward the young innovative talent sitting one or two levels below. Other organizations make the common error of simply promoting the best tactician into a leadership role. This sets off an array of nightmares wherein a technically skilled individual attempts to influence and inspire other human beings with no leadership knowledge upon which to draw.
This presents another problem. Companies sometimes think of leadership as only for senior/executive tiers. But leadership exist at all levels of the organisation, which means that everyone from the service worker level all the way up through middle-management and top executives must be grown as leaders over the course of their career. The hierarchical model is long gone and is replaced by flexible and networked teams. Yet, leadership development continues to be offered through the hierarchical mode, a framework that is woefully outdated.
Finally, we often mistake leadership development with technical skills. A lot of attention has been given in recent years to upskilling, proficiencies, problem-solving, and competencies and, yes, these make a difference in an organization and are crucial to its profitability and survival. But these are unrelated to leadership. Leadership begins and ends with heart, soul, love, and caring. It’s about inspiration. Leadership is connection, not direction.
In fairness, the reason the above problems exist isn’t because of a lack of noble intent on the part of leadership development professionals. It’s because we seem to be committed to viewing leadership through an antiquated lens. Gone are the days when the leader was the overlord walking the floors of the factory demanding performance and threatening those who fall short. Gone as well is the all-knowing, powerful, title bearing, corner office holding, authoritarian that dangles rewards and coerces employees to get things done and get them done now. The idea that 110 percent commitment to work is a requirement is also antiquated. Today’s educated, innovative, diverse workforce demands more. Employees require life balance and efficacy in their work. They want connection and trust.
This changes the end goal. No longer is leadership about technical prowess or a focus on the C-Suite. The mission of building leadership revolves around creating inclusive, loving environments from the ground up, not grooming a technical professional to fill a vacant personnel description.
Examine your leader development program and ask yourself the following three questions:
Question #1 – Do we see leadership as a one-off event or a journey that begins at the most junior levels in the organization and never ends?
Question #2 – Is our leadership program building inspirational influencers who visibly value diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility?
Question #3 – Does our focus include hefty doses of trust, vulnerability, humility, kindness, and humor?
While it may not be fair to judge a previous leadership era through the lens of today, it’s reasonable to make the argument that we must learn from our past, including our mistakes, in order to prepare leaders to face current and future challenges. Frankly, technical skills are easy as long as one possesses the cognitive capacity to master the skill. Soft skills are much more difficult and variable. Yet their impact on organizations is significant.
It’s time to evolve our focus on leader development to preparing our leaders to grow their thinking capacity, welcome the lessons of failure, model love, mindfulness, and presence. And additionally, it’s time to build leaders who can hold their teams accountable in a compassionate way. In other words, it’s time to let go and get real at work.
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Zina Sutch has been leading development and diversity programs for the Federal government for 20 years, and currently serves in the Senior Executive Service.
Patrick Malone spent 23 years in the Navy and served as an officer in the Medical Service Corps.
Zina is a faculty member and Patrick is director of the Key Executive Leadership Program at American University.
Their new book is Leading with Love and Laughter: Letting Go and Getting Real at Work (BK Publishers, Inc., May 25, 202
Disclaimer : The article is submitted by ZIna Sutch & Patrick Malone and the links are not responsibility of business strategy e magazine or associates.