Don’t Train Leaders; Develop Them

“Leadership, like swimming cannot be learned by reading about it.”

Henry Mintzberg

There has never been a truer statement. However, if you go to Amazon and search for leadership books you will find tens of thousands. What I found interesting is how many were published in the last 30 and 90 days, and how many more are in the pipeline:

  • Last 30 days (304)
  • Last 90 days (809)
  • Coming soon (161)

Everybody and their mother is writing about this most sought after skill. So, this tells me everyone is reading, but I have to wonder who is actually leading?

I have also seen in my mailbox every type leadership development program imaginable. However, if we were to do a quality control check on the effectiveness of their leadership training, what would the meter read? Are we building better leaders or do the manuals from the courses or books become credenza wear?

Training vs. developing

You don’t train leaders you develop them – a subtle yet important distinction lost on many. And developing them entails a long-term process with a variety of components, from coaching to reflective questions to understanding just who am I? Don’t train leaders, coach them, mentor them, disciple them, and develop them. This process should start from first promotions of responsibility. The longer we wait, the longer we pick up bad habits.

What are the most important lessons you have learned so far in your career or life journey? These could be anything from very simple, small lessons, to much larger, bigger lessons. How are they affecting your ability to lead? Are you getting better at it?

Who are you?

I have a friend who is a psychiatrist and he told me that one of the components of this field is that each one must be analyzed to understand just who they are. This makes sense, because if you know who you are, you possibly have less chance of becoming some flawed version of others you have seen in action.

This is why an authentic leader stands out vs. imposters, who are trying to play a role that fits them like a bad suit. Yet they continue to contort themselves, ending up like a leadership pretzel. Everyone striving to be that omnipotent hero-leader who charges in on the white horse and commands his troops and wins the battle is in for a rude awakening. That is a figment of the imagination in today’s climate. It has blinded us into trying to build this model into all of our leadership pipeline, which is so wrong.

Team leader vs. lone leader

While the concept of the strong leader is held supreme, no single person can make an organization successful. I do not care who he or she is. They must have the capabilities to build and motivate a team to get the task accomplished because we all, for the most part, are a part of a team or project

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Getting a team to come together and apply its strengths and expertise to develop solutions and then execute is the ONLY way for an organization to succeed. Today’s environment of constant change, innovation and collaboration requires what I call the skill of the orchestra conductor who can coax, mentor, coach and develop these disparate parts into a fine tuned orchestra.

Build your own program

So, scrap the 2-3-5 day off-the-shelf leadership training sessions and develop your leaders along the lines of your current and actual situation. What is your strategy? What is going to be your approach? Then drive your development program along those frameworks.

No more attempting to standardize by blending to a norm and acclimating to the status quo.

Development is nuanced, contextual, collaborative, fluid, and above all else, actionable. Your company and your employees will thank you for it.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


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