A New Approach to Leadership Development

Leadership is a critical component of success. An organization cannot hope to function without it.

There is much that goes into leadership. For example, aligning everyone in the organization around the What and the Why and then getting out of the way so that the people can get on with the work.

But in "getting out of the way," effective leadership does not abdicate. Rather it functions best as a surrounding field, as Kurt Lewin or Margaret Wheatley might say.

For decades, organizations around the world have invested in developing their leaders. Now some are questioning whether we have gotten a suitable return on the investment.

Maybe the approach has been wrong. Thus far, leadership development has focused on developing individuals into leaders by teaching skills.

What if we looked at it a different way? What if, instead of developing leaders, we started to develop leadership itself?

What is "leadership itself" then?

Consider this favorite leadership quote of mine, attributed to Lao Tzu:

A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.

What is it that Lao Tzu is trying to tell us? Does an effective leader stay mysteriously invisible somehow, influencing others like a puppet master?

No, I think the key is in the final phrase, where the people say "we did it ourselves."

To paraphrase the ancient philosopher, a leader is most effective, and successful, when the people lead themselves.

Therefore, the new approach to leadership development that I am offering is, don't (just) train the leaders. Train the people in the system.

The traditional approach (if it works) produces leaders.

The new approach produces a leadership field throughout the system.

What do you think?

Terrence Seamon has been a leadership development consultant for many years. Follow him on twitter @tseamon


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