Leadership Development – An Oxymoron? William Spindloe


Leadership development




When I speak with my fellow Learning Professionals if there is an area in their respective organizations they tend to think they have failed, it’s the ongoing development of the leaders.

Why? The answer is almost the same every time. The leaders in the organization tend to avoid any kind of guidance. Many of you reading this will concur, and if there are any senior management, or C-level executives reading this, ask yourself, have you done all you can to continue to develop yourself?

I am sure that many who have hit what they are likely to consider to be the peak of their careers, simply start to rely on experience, to manage and lead rather than to learn something new. As a consequence, decisions that could change, transform and help with the growth of organizations simply don’t get made or happen too slowly, because the leader in question has not truly understood.

One such example came in a candid discussion with a Director from one of my clients. He admitted, some considerable time after the eventual launch of a learning and performance management system that, the delay was in large part down to him and his fellow Directors. Throughout the process, initiated by his HR team, he freely admitted that he simply didn’t understand fully the reasoning of the proposed system and the implications to the business. At the same time, he knows that he and some of the other Directors also did not want to ask and show that there was a gap in their knowledge.

In a piece I saw written by the author Larry Dressler, he spoke about the fact that as kids we start school as question marks and leave as periods. We are encouraged to get to a point where we know ourselves, and that we form opinions. This is OK, but it also does mean that we seem to generally become less and less inquiring.

Our Leaders become people who are concerned with hiding any gaps in their knowledge and not showing weakness. It becomes about right not wrong, win not lose, show no emotion for many. We even have sayings about it ‘being lonely at the top’. Culturally, this is not helped by the fact that we think that the best Leaders are unilateral. But are they creating a wrong impression? And are they missing out on a new kind of wisdom or insight because they choose to lead this way? I’m not sure if it’s this type of leadership that the 21 Century needs.

Bill Gates still takes a week out a couple of times a year to think. He takes himself off, reads and talks to people who might guide and offer a new perspective. He may not be technically running a company these days, but he is the world’s biggest philanthropists and does have in his charge huge sums from men like Warren Buffet.

I have read that Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook fame, is doing something similar. Jack Welch, the former CEO and Chairman of General Electric, has become, for many, an example of the kind of leader they want to become. He is also very definitely one of the great examples that leaders are made not born. Having come from fairly humble beginnings, he attributes his success to ‘Controlling his own destiny, before someone else did’.

Let’s finish this on a quote that I think sums it up for me, from Mr. Welch,

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage”

– William Spindloe

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