Hello there, My name is Tessa van Mourik, I am a psychologist and a professional coach and trainer based in the Netherlands. Ron and I actually met in cyberspace, through the Linked In Q&A pages. Ron invited me to send in a blog post for his website, to which I happily agreed: so here it is! A couple of weeks ago I was following a Linked In discussion, with great interest, based on a question Ron posed there about how to approach your development as a leader. Ron’s question: How do you approach your own development as a leader?
I am constantly fascinated with the number of offers on how you can learn leadership. Coaching, mentoring, web courses, commercial training, volunteerism, company training etc.
Which one works though? How do you approach your own development as a leader?
For the record, mine is a combination of on the job experience, mentoring, college program, webinars. How about you?
The reference to the fact that the amount of offers on how to become a leader is almost infinite, really triggered me. For a while I worked as an educationalist at a University here in the Netherlands, and in that position I found that despite the huge amount of educational offers, one being even glossier than the other, it was still another thing to make a perfect individual match for an aspiring leader with a particular set of educational activities. This led me to respond as follows. Leadership development is big business of course. None of the numerous offers you get will make you a great leader though. At the same time, most of these offers could be helpful in your development. But, this is only the case if you use them specifically to raise awareness of what you do, what effect that has, and how you can use your potential in more than one way in a particular context. The true talent of personal leadership lies in being able to use any learning opportunity to the fullest, and to recognise it when these critical moments occur.
Research has long shown that great leadership is situational, and that different situations require different types of skills. Some skills may be similar in most leadership situations (e.g. decision making, vision casting, relationship building), but others (e.g. risk taking) are definitely not always required and even counterproductive in some situations.
Although some ‘skills’ commonly associated with leadership are close to personality traits and therefore in some sense born (e.g. self-confidence, being strong-willed), even those cannot bloom unless developed properly. The idea that leaders are born in my opinion is based on a restricted idea of what leadership is. As I recall Ron referred to the born argument as ‘lazy’ at some point…
For all the other skills involved, they can definitely be developed. There is no doubt some people have talent for a particular skill set, but still this would mount to not much without the self-awareness and drive to learn, that are conditional in the actual ability to learn.
The real skill that needs to be developed is asking and taking feedback, and using that for self-reflection and experimentation with different behaviour. See what works and doesn’t work in a particular situation, and if it doesn’t, analyse it (with the help of feedback) and try something new. Feedback is probably included in a lot of the developing activities you mention, and therefore those are probably, especially as a combination, effective ways for leadership development.
To sum up: I believe any activity that helps gain (real) feedback and helps reflect upon the effectiveness of one’s own behaviour in specific and real leadership situations, helps to actually develop as a leader.