How To Improve Leadership Development

Leadership development programs often focus on the wrong things.  Behavior expectations, skill development and competency models are ubiquitous and overemphasized.  You’d be hard pressed to walk into an organization and find a leadership development program that doesn’t focus on some sort of competency model.

Competency models provide a structure that caters to our desire for certainty.

No one can argue that the “Strategic Thinking” competency matters.  So do the “Creative Problem Solving” and “Communication” competencies.  Add these together with a whole host of others and you have a model you can rely on.  Succeed in transferring these competencies to your high potentials and you are all but guaranteed to succeed.

Unfortunately, leadership isn’t developed that way.  Leadership can not be divided into a finite number of behaviors, skills or competencies.  Leadership is too complex, fluid, messy and ambiguous.  Even if you could divide it into small pieces you wouldn’t produce consistent results by putting them back together.  It just doesn’t work that way.  There are too many variables at play.

Sure many of our great beloved leaders like Lincoln, Kennedy, Churchill, or Jobs possessed common characteristics.  Sure they behaved in ways that were similar, demonstrated skills that were similar, and possessed competencies that were similar.  Sure you can analyze their lives and understand what led them to be great.  You can analyze them until the cows come home but that doesn’t mean you will understand everything about leadership.

Leadership isn’t formulaic.  It is dynamic and fluid.

When you assume you can break leadership into small measurable pieces you make a “you know what” out of “u” and “me”.  Leadership isn’t like a Rubik’s Cube that only has one acceptable outcome.  Successful leadership takes many forms and produces varying results.  You can’t replicate one leader’s actions and achieve the same results.

Instead, realize that leaders are great because of distinctions.  When it comes to leadership, differences make all the difference.  Every leader comes from a different background.  Every leader possesses a different story.  Every leader has a different experience set.  Ever leader has a different perspective.

More importantly, every leader operates within a different context.  No two situations are ever the same.  Only one president led us during the civil war.  Only one President led us through the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Only one man took over as Great Britain’s Prime Minister during World War II.  Only one CEO introduced the world to the iPhone in 2007.

What would Lincoln have become without the civil war?  What would Kennedy have become without the cuban missile crisis?  What would Churchill have become without World War II?  What would Steve Jobs have become without the technology revolution?

When context and competence converge leaders emerge.

Perhaps the problem with many leadership development programs is that they lack sufficient context.