Improve “Leadership” not “leaders”

by Brian Brittain on November 22, 2019


Good leadership should result in an engaged workforce committed and skilled to execute the organizational strategy. This focused and aligned workforce, with the will and skill to get it done, doesn’t develop through working with individual leaders. Leadership occurs in the white space between individuals, not within an individual leader. All development needs to enhance partnering not individual managers.

Our approach to leadership development has been too focused on individual leaders in a vacuum. The approach to leadership development has to be on the system as a whole. How do individual leaders operate within the system? The development focus needs to be on relationship development, rather than individual development.

What interventions need to occur to improve the working relationship between managers and their subordinates? What role does leadership play and how do you improve it in the work between one subordinate and another, either within the same team, or across the functional boundaries? Leadership is not just an expectation of a manager, but should be expected of all. Leadership should come from whoever has clarity and courage in the moment. Not just behaviour attached to a managerial role.

So the statement, we need to develop our leaders, does not tell us anything. We need to ask a subsequent question, “what for”? When you look at the internal and external stakeholder system, think in terms of which relationships need to get better? Do you want leadership development to improve the functioning of teams around a task? Do you want leadership development to improve the connections between your organization and your external stakeholders? Or, do you need leadership development to address the cross-boundary issues you are having?

So, when you decide to invest in leadership development, do less individual work with individual leaders, and work with leaders within the part of the system that needs to improve the quality of their working relationships.

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