I believe we all progress through a “leader growth journey” in our work and in our lives. In the different organizations and teams that we are members of, we enter as individuals, socialize into followers, assume the identity as leaders, and ultimately, become leader developers. The leader role can be formal, where we carry a title or assigned position of leadership within the organization, or it can be informal – achieving influence throughout the team (up, down, and across) regardless of our title or position. Most importantly though, there is a clear distinction between being a leader and leader developer. Steering the ship yourself is far different from teaching others how to steer the ship and affording them opportunities to do so. The differences span from guiding attitudes, routine behaviors, and leader priorities.
This project, offered through a series of articles, creates the “3×5 Leader Development Handbook,” which provides a holistic approach to becoming an effective leader developer.
Defining Leader Development
The bottom line and the true essence of leader development is this: leaders create leaders. Ultimately, leaders who are effective leader developers help their people progress through the leader growth journey from merely being followers to becoming leaders and, eventually, leader developers themselves. Leader development is a defined process or activity that makes your people better leaders. Leader development activities can be as small as teaching a new skill or providing performance feedback, and as big as a leader professional development program with structured sessions for your organization. Three key aspects about leader development to consider moving forward:
- Leader development must be defined. Though your example as a leader contributes to leader development, at some point, effective leader development must be a deliberate effort beyond merely your passive example.
- The above examples of leader development activities are just that: activities. Those are small components of a broader leader development process that must integrate all aspects of how your organization does business. Effective leader development is a holistic approach that encompasses many different domains of organizational life, which we will explore more in this Handbook.
- Leader development is highly contextual and based on the assessed needs of your organization and your people. The goals, domains, and methods of one organization’s leader development will be very different from another. Ensure we are not so rigid as leader developers that we are unable to adapt our peoples’ developmental needs.
David Marquet, author of Turn the Ship Around!, offers a fantastic argument for a “leader-leader” development model over a “leader-follower” one, which helps round out our definition of leader development:
“It is precisely the success of the top-down, leader-follower structure that makes it so appealing. As long as you are measuring performance over just the short run, it can be effective. Officers are rewarded for being indispensable, for being missed after they depart. When the performance of a unit goes down after an officer leaves, it is taken as a sign that he was a good leader, not that he was ineffective in training his people properly. Another factor that makes this [leader-follower] leadership approach appealing is the induced numbness. It absolves subordinates of the hard work of thinking, making decisions, and being responsible and accountable. You are just a cog, an executor of the decisions of others. ‘Hey, I was only doing what I was told.’ People get comfortable with this. There’s a cost to the people, though, which only becomes evident over time. People who are treated as followers treat others as followers when it’s their turn to lead. A vast untapped human potential is lost as a result of treating people as followers. Only in the long run – three to ten years later – does it become obvious, but by that time people have moved on to new jobs.”
A Leader Development Approach
Though there may be wrong approaches to leader development (such as not doing it), I argue there is not necessarily a right way to do it. Below is an approach, an example to model after.
This leader development approach reasons that we must take care of our organizational requirements first so we can ensure that we maintain effective and efficient operations. We cannot prioritize or sustain leader development efforts if our organization consistently struggles to manage our current demands and operations in an efficient manner. We must make our routine business efficient so we have added capacity for important things like leader development; its about distinguishing and, most importantly, managing what is important versus urgent in our organization’s day-to-day activities and ultimately maintaining a long-view perspective.
Then, leaders need to model development in their own attitudes and behaviors; though your personal example should not be the extent of your leader development efforts, it is an effective start. Then, with the organization’s added capacity due to efficiently managing urgent and important, you initiate your defined leader development process in the organization. Finally, you sustain leader development by building and reinforcing a culture of development across all people and levels in your organization.
A Note About Language
There is a difference between leader development and leadership development and we explore the distinction later in the Handbook. To maintain simple language and easy readability throughout this Handbook, however, I refer all leader(ship) development just as “leader development.” An effective and holistic approach to “leader development” sufficiently attends to both, developing individual leaders and our organization’s collective leadership.
The Leader Development Handbook Structure
This Handbook, offered through the blog series, sequentially follows the leader development approach provided above and is segmented across 11 articles. The general series structure following this introduction is:
- The first article covers how to efficiently manage organizational demands so your people have the added capacity for quality leader development: urgent versus important.
- The next article outlines the need to have a defined self-development model before you can initiate leader development with others. You first need to lead and develop yourself before you can effectively lead and develop others.
- The bulk of this series encompasses seven articles about implementing a leader development process in your organization, which addresses leader vs. leadership development, introducing and explaining 3×5 Leadership’s leader development matrix, and breaking down many critical leader development activities.
- Finally, the last article discusses how to sustain leader development in your organization by building and reinforcing a culture focused on it.
Lead (and Develop) Well!
This Handbook is a decade’s culmination of my academic studies, self-development efforts, and leader experiences. I am thrilled and humbled to offer this Leader Development Handbook as a robust resource for you and your organization. I look forward to hearing how this Handbook impacts you and your people. Remember, leader development occurs daily, not in a day. It must be deliberate and defined. Leaders create leaders – that is the essence of leader development.
Lead and develop well, friends!
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