Given the prevalence of a results oriented focus, leadership development is very often means leadership skill development for results. The premise is that an individual could get results—the measure of effective leadership—if he/she just acquired the right skills. This operative paradigm casts a leader as a skillful mechanic of the business machine, that if equipped with the tools and techniques he/she can keep it running—just like a well-oiled machine. Why else is it so common to hear MBA programs and leadership development workshops promote how they provide their participants with the skills and tools they need to be effective?
Accordingly, each year organizations spend huge sums of money sending their aspiring young MBAs off to leadership training seminars or workshops with the expectation that they will acquire the requisite skills to bring leadership (i.e. results) to the organization. Understandably the recipients of this training view their acquired skills and tools as instrumental to them moving up the hierarchy; supporting efforts to advance their career, in pursuit of a leadership position.
This serves to further the erroneous belief that leadership is a high rung in the hierarchy. This belief perpetuates the misunderstanding that leadership has a positional requirement and that one’s leadership prowess is established with the getting of results, such as growth in material assets or profit. Unfortunately this belief subverts the very thing upon which leadership rests.
A key principle of leadership—often overlooked in business—is that it requires a deep and wide sense of caring. And caring is not a skill nor can it be acquired through training! More specifically, the way leadership realizes what is observed on the outside is through development of the inside. Leadership emerges from an awareness of self that flows from an understanding of what and who we truly are.
Accordingly, the road to leadership has more to do with interior development than skills training for material (or external) accomplishments. Interior development includes: the development of self, moral development, social development, emotional development, and intellectual/cognitive development. While there are other developmental realms, these are most critical to the leadership experience.
Thus leadership is not about climbing to the highest rung in the hierarchy it is about rising up to our ‘I-We’ responsibility. With this understanding our search for examples finds such people as Eleanor Roosevelt (who acted on a vision of women’s rights and social justice) or Nelson Mandela (who acted on a vision of racial equality and moral integrity) who have provided the leadership experience. There is no ‘Me’ or ‘Us’ in these!
If a person is fortunate enough to have attained an upper rung of an organization’s hierarchy, then he/she has the positional authority and thus the added responsibility to make the world for those he/she touches a better world. Not for ‘Me’ but for ‘I-We’! A better world is one wherein the business of business enables a job to become a joy. For a person to lead he/she must learn how to—not trained how to—act in a deeply caring way. In a world such as ours this takes courage! Could this be why the leadership experience is so rare?