One of the more popular topics among organization types is leadership development. Countless books, articles, conferences and training programs are focused on the subject, the abundance of which suggests that most people feel there is a perpetual gap between the behavior they want and what they get from those in roles designated as “leadership.” The upside to this mass body of work is that the collection of theory and practices associated with the topic is thorough and diverse. The downside is, despite the richness of our knowledge and tools, we continue to be ineffective changing the behavior of leaders.
One reason for the failure of leadership development efforts may be that we have over emphasized leadership and under emphasized development. We have identified the important elements of leadership and what one might do to demonstrate leadership capability, but we have continued to ignore an important fact: most people may not yet have the capacity to learn to apply these new behaviors.
One of the fundamental principles of human development is that individuals will not develop new skills unless they are both able and ready to learn. In other words, we can’t run unless our body is able to run, and almost more importantly, we are mentally ready to run. Running requires a different mindset. It requires a different way of perceiving and navigating the world. And like running, leadership is as much about readiness as it is about ability. Lots of people have the ability to lead well, but few are ready (and willing) to make the fundamental changes to their way of thinking required to change embedded patterns of behavior . . . the kind of behavior that shows up as bad leadership.
True development is about transforming our mindset, not just increasing our knowledge and our behavioral repertoire. Only by transforming our mindset can we sustain the behavioral change required to become the effective leaders we truly can be.