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Leadership development: it’s not all about the individual leader

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I’d be interested to know if you share my concerns about leadership development.  Much as I’m fascinated by the topic, and by the very real need to develop the leaders of today and tomorrow, my concern is that leaders think it’s all about them.

What their personality profiles tell them.

What their personal preferences are.

Over the years I’ve heard about ‘plants’ and ‘shapers’.  Tuckman’s theory.  Quality Circles and self-directed teams.  I love them all.  They’re ways of looking at the world that challenge our thinking and help improve team success.

But have you found that sometimes leaders – and future leaders – think it’s all about them?  leader as superhero

  • Graduates who expect everything on a plate?
  • People in the talent pool who expect rapid promotion?
  • Leaders who are more interested in power plays than delivering for the organisation?

Now, I’m as self-obsessed as the next person.  I’m happy to admit I’m a control freak.  But I know that I need to understand and relate to the rest of the team, for a more successful bigger picture.

One of the consistent themes I’ve noticed over the years is the need for putting the case for better leadership more powerfully.  Expressing –

  • Why change?
  • Why transformation?
  • Why now?

The better those messages are conveyed, the more engaged and meaningful the leadership programme becomes.

I remember one organisation where we filmed the Board.  Leaders spoke, from their diverse specialist areas, about why leadership development was important to the organisation.  What it meant from their point of view.

In particular, the CEO expressed what good leadership looked like for him.  What he was willing to support in service of developing people.

And what he wasn’t prepared to put up with.

It was a very clear message.  “This is what success looks like.  And we don’t like second best around here.” 

The time and financial investment in leadership development was clearly linked to organizational success.  And people knew it.

And, as the team responsible for developing these people into senior leaders, we had a support clause.  

When people tried to use the leadership development programme to build their own empires.  For game playing.  Targeting the tutors to make themselves look big.  We had the support of the Board to challenge those people.

We invited them to consider whether this programme was really right for them.  Whether they had another career path in mind.  And some of them did.

Because leadership development is bigger than one – or even a few – people.  

It’s about the success of the whole organisation.  Pivoting on the development of a relatively small number of people.

My conclusion is that it’s not just about designing and developing the perfect leadership programme.

  • It’s about conveying the organisation’s need for better leadership
  • For communicating what good leadership looks like
  • For living leadership, not just talking about it

And for supporting the team who deliver the programmes to be successful too.

Am I alone in thinking that leadership development isn’t just about the individual leader?  I’m genuinely interested in hearing your thoughts.  And the challenges you face in developing leadership.  I look forward to hearing from you.


Author: Helen Caton Hughes

Leadership and Team Coach based on inspirational and practical tools. Works with leaders around the world; trains coaches to International Coach Federation standards. Passionate about finding best ways for leaders to inspire themselves and get the best from their teams

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