In the past few weeks, I have experienced a change of heart on the topic of leadership development. I am not sure what has led to this abrupt turn in my thinking but must admit I find it quite refreshing to embrace something that would have seemed foreign to me days ago.
It seems like where ever you look there are discussions surrounding leadership. Here is a sampling of what you might see:
- What makes a good leader?
- What is the difference between managing & leading?
- How can we develop leaders?
- Are leaders born or made?
- What 3 skills must all leaders possess?
- and the list goes on ad nauseum…
Is it realistic to believe that we can “make leaders” by breaking down the skills, abilities, & traits then creating training & development programs that will somehow transform people into leaders? For many years, I believed this could be done but that is no longer the case. It is not that I think a person cannot grow into a leader but I believe it requires a more holistic approach. There is really only one way a person can develop their leadership skills and that is to employ them by leading. No amount of training, reading, studying, or discussing will adequately prepare someone for the challenges of leading. Only the actual challenges of leading will suffice.
It is responsibility of a leader to mentor others in leadership and this cannot be delegated to human resources or an outside consultant. Leaders develop leaders…not followers. If a so-called leader cannot create the desire to lead in their followers, then that person falls short of being a true leader. The truth is that leadership cannot be an end in itself. Leading is a means to a greater end and a tremendous responsibility that cannot be taken lightly. It is not something that someone should strive to become, it is the culmination of actions that inspire others to follow that creates a leader. You cannot designate someone to be a leader, the people will choose their leader. One of the best definitions of a leader is “someone who has followers”.
I believe we have successfully killed leadership as we continually attempt to break it into pieces in true Newtonian fashion. There are so many variables involved in leading that it is nearly impossible to say with any degree of confidence that there is a single process for developing leaders. With variables like individual human beings, varied cultures within organizations, business life-cycle, economic conditions, political jockeying, etc. the reality remains that great leadership is like pornography…it cannot be defined but I know it when I see it.
My parting thought to you would be this, “How many of our great leaders came out of so-called leadership development programs?” (The answer rhymes with the name of the Roman emperor who fiddled while Rome burned)