Leadership development refers to any activity that enhances the quality of leadership within an individual or organization. These activities have ranged from MBA style programs offered at university business schools to action learning, high-ropes courses and executive retreats.
Developing Individual Leaders
Traditionally, leadership development has focused on developing the leadership abilities and attitudes of individuals.
Just as people are not all born with the ability or desire to play football (soccer) like Pele or to sing like Luciano Pavarotti, people are not all born with the ability to lead. Different personal traits and characteristics can help or hinder a person’s leadership effectiveness and require formalized programs for developing leadership competencies.
Classroom-style training and associated reading is effective in helping leaders to know more about what is involved in leading well. However, knowing what to do and doing what you know are two very different outcomes; management expert Henry Mintzberg is one person to highlight this dilemma. It is estimated that as little as 15% of learning from traditional classroom style training results in sustained behavioral change within the workplace.
The success of leadership development efforts has been linked to three variables:
- Individual learner characteristics
- The quality and nature of the leadership development program
- Genuine support for behavioral change from the leader’s supervisor
Military officer training academies, such as the Royal Military Academy Sand Hurst, go to great lengths to only accept candidates who show the highest potential to lead well. Personal characteristics that are associated with successful leadership development include leader motivation to learn, a high achievement drive and personality traits such as openness to experience, an internal focus of control, and self-monitoring.
Development is also more likely to occur when the design of the development program:
- Integrates a range of developmental experiences over a set period of time (e.g. 6–12 months). These experiences may include 360 degree feedback, experiential classroom style programs, business school style coursework, executive coaching, reflective journaling, mentoring and more.
- Involves goal setting, following an assessment of key developmental needs and then evaluate the achievement of goals after a given time period.
Among key concepts in leadership development one may find:
- Experiential learning: positioning the individual in the focus of the learning process, going through the four stages of experiential learning as formulated by David A. Kolb:
1. concrete experience
2. observation and reflection
3. forming abstract concept
4. testing in new situations.
- Self efficacy: The right training and coaching should bring about ‘Self efficacy’ in the trainee, as Albert Bandura formulated: A person’s belief about his capabilities to produce effects
- Visioning: Developing the ability to formulate a clear image of the aspired future of an organization unit.
A good personal leadership development program should enable you to develop a plan that helps you gain essential leadership skills required for roles across a wide spectrum from a youth environment to the corporate world.
Our approach to what we call “Strategic Leadership” development relies largely upon “action learning”, which is an approach to solving problems that takes action — then, by reflecting on the results and the problem solving process as well as the solutions the team develops. The action learning process includes
- a real problem that is important, critical, and usually complex,
- a diverse problem-solving team or “set”,
- a process that promotes curiosity, inquiry, and reflection,
- a requirement that talk be converted into action and, ultimately, a solution, and
- a commitment to learning.
In many, but not all, forms of action learning, a coach is included who is responsible for promoting and facilitate learning as well as encouraging the team to be self-managing. In addition, the learning acquired by working on complex, critical, and urgent problems that have no currently acceptable solutions can be applied by individual, teams, and organizations to other situations. The theory of action learning was developed originally for applications to support organisational and business development, problem solving and improvement.
Action learning has many educational applications now. Because Action learning has been demonstrated to be very effective in developing a number of individual leadership and team problem solving skills. It was been used extensively as a component in corporate and organizational leadership development programs. Because complex problems require many skills, individual team members can develop a customized learning agenda for themselves. This strategy is quite different from the “one size fits all” curriculum that is characteristic of many training and development programs. This is the logic underlying our devising what we refer to as “Strategic Leadership Development” because it utilizes a unique learning plan that is fits the individual within their learning context.