Monday, November 9, 2009

We found the leaders!

It seems that humans have been trying for quite some time to determine who is a leader, or at least what is indicative of a leader. Everything from personality and achievement tests, as well as behavioral interviews and in-depth observation has been tried. Still the root of leader, presuming one exists, remains elusive. However, let’s imagine that we have found the indicator of leadership ability- and it’s a tangible thing. For the purpose of this blog entry, all left handed people have leadership ability (my mom is a leftie-she would be so proud!). Now that we have found these people, we can develop them, right?

During class I had been wondering what would happen if we answered the question about how to identify those with leadership ability so that it would then be possible to cultivate such ability. So now that we’ve hypothetically identified people with leadership talent, now comes the question of it can be developed into something that the person can utilize in a productive way. We now know that all of the lefties are potential leaders and that the ability is present. How do we go about developing their ability? Do we treat it like innate musical ability, providing lessons and space for creativity, unfettered by other activities? Or is like athletic ability, where we encourage and require practice of the discipline and competition among others? Or is it more like the capacity for language and literacy, where learning the basics is the beginning to an almost limitless set of words and cultures? Can it be taught like a college major that is skills driven, such as accountancy, where upon showing your leftie-ness, you engage in theory based courses and practical internships?

From our readings for this week, Robert Fulmer in “The Evolving Paradigm of Leadership Development” discusses that leadership development is an on-going process, suggesting that the above ways of cultivating ability would not work for leadership. Also he delves into the concepts of creating leaders who can create a future and nurture other leaders, a concept that we have also discussed in class. Perhaps then these leftie leaders should engage in peer teaching and learning, because of the flexible nature of leadership. Using Fulmer’s ideas, one could say that we would need to devote a lifetime to the leadership development of our lefties, much like we do now, despite not actually knowing if anyone has innate leadership ability. Maybe it doesn’t truly matter if we know that someone has leadership ability…

To conclude I ask, is the true question how to identify those with leadership skills, or what to do with them once we find them?


  1. Nicole-

    I think you raise an important point about the "development of leaders". I can't help but think about all the money, time and resources that people "throw" at leadership. Classes, seminars, books, weekend it the same as trying to push a square peg through a round hole for many of the people who are subjected to these things? I think identification is the hardest part. People at HP thought they had "identified" leadership in Carly Fiorina...

    I wonder how much of "identification" is luck vs. wishful thinking. I think people hate not having control over things, and leadership, and more especially leadership to fit a specific need is one of those things that people can't quite grasp and it drives us NUTS (hence the classes, development, etc.)

    Maybe that's why it's offered to so many people- we put everyone through "training" and someONE comes out as a "leader" and we say, see! The "development" worked!

    I wonder if trying to develop leadership is simply a fool's errand, and exercise in people to try and feel better or control something they may never be able to.

    Great post- definitely got me thinking!

  2. I agree with everything Chris just said, but here is another question--if ten people are thrown into leadership training, and one of those people comes out as an amazing leader, was it a waste, because only one out of ten succeeded? Or do we consider ANY new leader a success?

    So this brings us back to metrics--is it possible to agree upon not only measurements of a successful program, but also answer, "how many leaders must a program produce to be successful?"

  3. Thanks for your comments! Chris, I can definitely see what you mean by suggesting that perhaps all of this leadership development is more about keeping people calm and empowering them to suceed. Perhaps it isn't about developing specific people but rather about the psychological benefits of developing everyone or a group of a people at certain level. Meghan, I think that any new leader is a success but that those nine other places in leadership training could have gone to nine other potential leaders had we been able to identify them better. But I also think that maybe leadership training is a way to identify leaders, based on who makes it through and then goes on to start to become a leader in his or her organization.


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