It’s Time To Rethink Leadership Development:
Leadership excellence is fundamental to the health and performance of an organisation. Leadership development, however, in most cases is a costly affair. It therefore warrants careful consideration of what organisations hope to achieve when they invest in Leadership Development leadership development. If the point of departure is to help people excel as highly competent individuals, then the criteria for a development programme would be different from one where the goal is to grow people in order to achieve more with and through others – in other words true leadership and teamwork.
Changing perceptions and expectations of leadership
Times change and so do the perceptions and expectations of leadership. If we lived in ancient times when progress meant territorial dominance and hard, hand-fought victories on the battlefield, we would be looking for strong, brave and imposing men with some ability to out-think the enemy. If we lived in the industrial age we would be looking for superior scientific minds. As the world became more ordered, specialised and hierarchically structured in governments, institutions, business and many others types of organisations; technical or functional ability and political astuteness (skilful in tactics and power play) allowed many to rise to the top and thus be recognised as leaders. In this scenario, leadership is typically exercised through command and control complimented by concomitant tactics of intimidation and manipulation. Unfortunately, there are far too many examples with this type of leadership and organisations may be stuck in this old mindset.
Instruments of power
Where command and control still delivers results, the people have resigned themselves to the idea that they are fundamentally either stronger or weaker instruments of power – in some cases they paint themselves powerless for life, in others they believe they are untouchable and as a result often ruin their personal relationships. They fear or respect power for the sake of power. Where those at the top embrace the culture — and why would they not if they were successful in and beneficiaries of it — they will more likely than not, consciously or unconsciously, further entrench this culture through the choices they make on training and development. It does not bode well for the future in a world where optimum learning, flexibility and responsiveness are such important factors for success.
The cost for organisations, and more specifically, when the leadership are poorly aligned with societal changes is immeasurably high. Today’s knowledge worker commits themselves when they experience the freedom to be creative and enterprising. In a command and control environment they feel inhibited and frustrated; the result being untapped potential. Moreover, people in such an environment often withhold critical information which ultimately comes at a cost to the organisation.
Another cost factor is that employees who are not intrinsically motivated but prepared to submissively and passively ‘sit out’ their careers for the sake of a salary cheque, are nowadays difficult and expensive to get rid of. The longer we have command and control environments (as it is experienced by the common worker, since it is seldom acknowledged by the leadership), the more disengaged people will become. Progressive organisations, understand what is required of a modern-day leader, and are quickly pulling away from their counterparts who continue to practice the archaic command and control tactics.
The key shift
Who do we regard as good leaders? Who is climbing the ladder to higher positions of authority and power? Who gets the benefit of the doubt when it comes to filling leadership positions? Is it not those with a strong knowledge base as reflected in their academic qualifications and other certificates? Is it not those with technical know-how and management experience? And is it not those who have demonstrated the ability to use their positional power to get quick results? We believe these are the three criteria most people have in mind when they consider candidates for leadership positions. Whoever fits the bill, can be forgiven if he or she feels superior to the rest. The combination of high intellect, know-how, tactical skill and a robust ego is a powerful one. It is almost inevitable that the leadership challenge ends up to be no more than a battle of wits and ego’s in budget, planning and strategy sessions. Teamwork, the key to success, suffers as a result.
How would leadership development programmes be of any use for the above? If it means another qualification to go on the manager’s CV, more ideas, theories, models and arguments for the meeting room, and perhaps some insights that could improve personal effectiveness, then it will fit the requirement well. But the question that needs to be asked above all is: what is the value for the organisation as a whole? What is the positive influence on those who work with the leader, their morale, energy, focus, productivity, willingness to take responsibility, innovativeness, and own leadership development? Furthermore, what are the ethical and governance values being driven by the organisation and its leaders, and do management support these? And then, what are the positive changes that others see in terms of the manager’s willingness to sacrifice for the cause, openness to feedback, team-orientation, his/her courage to name the real issues that prevent growth in the organisation, and work towards much needed transformation?