Leadership Development – What is the first step to make it works?

“A leader is someone who marches his people towards a better future”, Marcus Buckingham said it in his book Discover Your Strength. Research on how good corporations perform better than their competitors revealed that leadership is a pivot point. Sustainable high performance of a corporation in over twenty years have been associated with the existence of strong leadership and successions of talents (Mc Kinsey’s publication on The War for Talent in 2001). If every company knows that leadership is so important for its success and survival what make many corporations being mediocre or even fail at it?


Since 1970 there have been many theories and approaches on how to develop an effective leader. Academics, consultants and trainers have claimed their approaches are superior than others. Many perspectives in how to develop human capital have stemmed from approaches in sports, educations, neuroscience, philosophy, cognitive psychology, family therapy, management fads, spirituality and religions. From my observations and empirical evidence, I have learnt that what works best is when we have a holistic understanding of what an organisation truly needs given the context of its culture, ambition and capacity to grow. Adopting best practice without knowing the inside out of an organisation dynamics often led to roving without tangible progress.


Values and belief are foundation that drive reactions, decisions and actions of an individual. Value is a belief about what has to be followed or fulfilled as it is regarded of importance. Belief is about how someone sees the world. How someone foresees possibilities and limitations. How someone perceives events and gives meaning to them. Values and belief are often called mindset that manifest in corporate culture. Leadership development efforts that over emphasise on knowledge and skills without superseding mindset alignment will not produce leaders that can take new actions.


When you interview a leader of his opinions to solve a problem, intellectually he can provide some good answers. In reality does he practice what he just has answered? A leader who says he prefers delivering positive feedback is not necessarily a good coach. A leader that says he is open to new ideas and critics may not be a good listener. The gap of knowing and doing is immense. It is driven by what the leaders believe right to do in his most daring circumstance. A good leader will be tested what his true mindset during a critical situation. A leader that has personal safety as his top value will have a very different response with one that has responsibility as his top value. The difference in ‘stated’ and ‘practiced’ values is emergent only through a crisis.


A manager can acquire and practice new knowledge when conditions in his organisation supports his learning journey. Pressurising, indecisive, narcissistic, ego maniac, yes man, hypocrite superiors are the obstacles for a manager to practice what they have learnt. Many corporations also sow unhealthy culture when leaders at the top play favouritism. Selections and promotions are driven by know who. Rewards and performance evaluations are tools for managers to exercise power over their subordinates. People who are good at sucking up their bosses are those who remain after restructuring an organisation. This all in all conveys a message that to grow and be successful in the organisation you do not need to practice what you have learnt. In other words, these organisations have failed at developing leaders due to lacking of role models and unsupportive culture.


HR development best practices have been progressing so vast and quickly in the last two decades. Adopting them cannot be done through participation of a seminar or workshop. It demands rigorous, integrated and coherent approaches. Developing an effective leader starts with how the company aligns its culture. The process often requires senior leaders to start learning how they can have different conversations. Leaders need to learn how they waft new moods and embody new being. This means that the leaders learn engaging new conversations that open up possibilities, generate new mood of hopes and excitements, and sow trust and confidence. Without them, any developmental effort at the content and process level will be likely futile. Through new conversations a leader imbues a new mindset, generates moods of openness and welcomes differences. This is the spark of a learning and developmental journey in an organisation.


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