The World’s #1 Executive Coaching and Business Coaching Blog (2017-2021)

Leadership development

What are you doing in your organization to develop leaders? Do you treat everyone in your organization as a budding leader or do you hand pick a select few? If you’re only tapping a select few in your organization as leaders, it’s possible that your organization is missing out. In fact, Phil Dourado, founder of The Leadership Hub and author of “The 60 Second Leader” says that’s the wrong way to go about it entirely. Phil spoke more with John Mattone about misconceptions in leadership. Here’s what he had to say:

What are some major misconceptions about leadership development?

  1. Leadership traits. There’s this old “trait theory” that some people have innate leadership “traits.” It says that some people were born to be leaders. This has rightly faded away. If someone would only save us from what replaced it:
  2. Competencies-based leadership development. Most large organizations use this model, and to that I say “Competencies? What kind of word is that?” It’s like a “satisfaction” in customer measurement; not fit for purpose. People want to work in a culture of extraordinary leadership that inspires. That’s what brings out extraordinary performances in people.

How have these misconceptions become prominent?

George Orwell said the language you use limits your ability to conceptualize outside of the jargon and creates a false “model” of the world that you can describe and measure; but it isn’t the real world. That’s exactly what’s happened with leadership development in big business.

What does that mean exactly?

The appeal is that you can build a “program” out of component parts – the “competencies,” delivered in discontinuous bursts (away days, retreats, two-day workshops, conferences). Most CEOs in large organizations identify “succession” as their major worry. Most see leadership development as developing people like them that they can hand over the business to. Up and coming “High Potentials” or “HIPOs” are sent away to commune with “senior” people often as an annual leadership bonding exercise. Then, they come back down from the mountaintop with an enlightened glow to share what they’ve learned with ordinary mortals in the organization.

The sharp-eyed among us will notice that the “HIPO” thing and the separating leaders under development from the rest of the organization is actually just more trait theory! Hundreds of years out of date and disguised it may be behind modern HR jargon, but it STILL assumes the “specialness” of a minority of the workforce; that they have innate traits that need to be groomed and developed. Basic psychology teaches us that if you tell someone they are special they will act special. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It even has a name: The Pygmalion Effect. You’re telling everyone else in the organization that they have to leave leadership to these “special people.”

How should leaders correct the behaviors that accompany these misconceptions?

To start correcting the dominant misconception that leaders practice leadership from their position or job title, you need to work on the thinking and language that allows that. Start with constantly repeating this and making it part of your organizational language: “The job of a leader used to be to create followers. Now it’s to create more leaders.” (Thank you for that, Ralph Nader). Then build from there.

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