This was the first question at the opening session of The Art & Practice of Leadership Development - an executive development program I took part in at the Kennedy School of Government a few years back. It’s an interesting question. It kept our group occupied for a couple hours. When we think about leader development, each program architect will have to answer this question for themselves. As those of you reading this know, at times the architect designs a well-constructed and transformative structure. Other times,this may not be the case. So if we hope to develop a leader, it seems there needs to be a logical starting point. After all, there is in diving, soccer, cooking, medicine, etc. Of course there will be some individual variances, but generally speaking, there is a realistic path of skills that one must master prior to moving on to the next level of skills – think “Karate.” I’m not sure this path currently exists in leadership development. Yes, there are competency models and books such as The Leadership Pipeline which have nicely outlined who needs certain skills for a certain role. But really, where do you begin when it comes to leadership development? Self awareness and self-exploration? Theory or conceptual understanding? A teams course with a loose set of concepts as topics for debrief?
Like many, I am not 100% certain about the answer to the questions above – and I have been exploring leader development for almost a decade now. Perhaps psychology would have some good clues – after all, if you hope to develop a therapist I am sure there are at least a few schools of thought on how to do so. Especially depending on the paradigm – Gestalt, Jungian, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), etc.
The challenge is this. If we do noth have a clear understanding of our ultimate objective for development, do not have a clear set of skills with a built in opportunity for deliberate practice, and an educated group of men and women to coach the students for a certain level of expertise, we are at a disadvantage before we have even left the gates.
“So where should we begin?”