What is good leadership development?

Start by asking ‘What is driving this? Where is it coming from? What’s pushing it and more importantly what’s pulling it?’ Even the best development seems founded in a mindset that in essence says ‘We’ve got these people to develop. How can we inform their development from a more realistic organisational perspective?’

This context-aware approach may be labelled ‘organisational management/leadership development’. It still assumes ‘programmes’. It assumes people need to be taken away from their work to learn how to be better managers and leaders. It is often pushed onto an organisation by developers without their understanding what is going on in the organisation and what learning and change the organisation needs to pull to itself. But what this form of development ultimately achieves for the organisation is limited. It lacks the power to transform an organisation.

It is possible to think about development from the other end, starting with identifying the organisation’s needs, and for an improvement process to be led by that. This approach takes you down a road of analysing how a system is working/not working, and what that implies for leadership. This requires understanding how leadership is affected by the system, and how the process of leadership works – indeed identifying the leadership culture (‘how leadership works round here’). The solution is then a mix of initiatives, many of which are OD actions. A chief one is to rethink how the accountability system works.

The intervention is to change the system and not necessarily to change the people. But the people involved in changing the system can and do change and learn.

If you notice the fishtank and set out to improve it, you improve the fish. But if you notice only the fish (most leadership development is about this) and set out to improve them, you won’t get much improvement to the fishtank. And it that doesn’t happen, then the fish will revert to normal. Hence little transformation.