WRITTEN BY DR. DAVID WATTERSON, FOUNDER OF ERC'S AFFILIATE, WATTERSON & ASSOCIATES, INC.
After more than four decades of studying and observing the process of developing leaders, I am convinced more than ever that it takes a multitude of educational inputs, life and work experiences, and learnings to culminate in a wise and effective leader. As much as we tend to look for fast and simple answers, it does not happen quickly.
This is particularly unfortunate in the current times where, with the speed of the changes in technology, business, social and cultural dynamics to name a few, good leadership is more in demand than ever and we are pressed to develop as many good leaders as possible. However, this creates challenges to this natural and organic process.
It is important to start early, be continuous, and take as much advantage of available resources as possible. Just as rushing the bloom of a rose, fast tracking leadership development has numerous perils.
As Warren Bennis stated decades ago, “good leadership is a little like good art; hard to describe, but you know when you see it”. It requires intelligence, good judgment, compassion, mental toughness, resilience, insight, and perseverance. It includes values, trust, ethics, and integrity. The skills of being inspiring, compelling, and visionary are essential to engage others to actions that fulfill a vision.
All this requires education, information, and knowledge that gets put into the caldron of experiences that galvanize a higher level of understanding. The wisdom that results from the honest reflection of these successes and failures is a natural outcome of this process. It occurred to me once that it is like the clay on a potter’s wheel being spun, pushed, and shaped to form a beautiful work of art.
There are three main areas to consider in a good leadership development program:
- A full and comprehensive addressing of all the essentials to a good leader
- Optimum exposure to quality developmental resources
- An awareness of the role that balance plays in leadership effectiveness.
So, when a business considers leadership development, I would suggest that it requires an all hands on deck effort. Use it all. Select individuals well (essential ingredients), look at all their past informational/educational and experiential inputs, and then immerse the individual in as many on the job and life learning experiences as possible within the budget. Training, experiential assignments, and coaching feedback and reflection are all important components of a robust program.
Assessment and self-awareness tools and processes can be used and they do not need to be overly expensive or complex. There is an advantage to using valid and established tools and techniques with appropriately trained practitioners.
Most good leaders that I have had the pleasuring of knowing have embraced, sought out, and used a wide range of tools and techniques to gain insight and clarity about who they are, what they are good at, and what they can strengthen or delegate. They can quickly and crisply articulate where they succeeded, where they didn’t do so well, and what they learned from both to apply to future endeavors.
Although we need to grow leaders fast and a lot of them, there is good news in the fact that this process has more resources than ever to support it. And it starts earlier than ever. I recently read the review written by a 6th grader of HIMSELF for his parent teacher conference. He rated himself and described how he was doing on six criteria, and he stated his commitments for the next quarter. A quick google search will yield a bounty of camps for teens on developing resilience for acting, music, sports, leadership, and a myriad of other endeavors. There are sports training facilities, for instance, that include development of mental toughness, learning to process loss and achievement, optimism, and positive mental imagery.
Good leaders (and leadership development programs) have recognized the importance of balance in all of it. Too much of any of it throws it off (more most often reaches a point of diminishing returns). Squeezing the golf club harder does not help the swing, nor does letting it go.
Thinking skills, for example, to arrive at good judgment benefits from balance; e.g. logic and intuition; strategy and execution; information and experience. When moving into a leadership role, just having strong technical skills does not predict success without being balanced with good interpersonal skills (empathy, listening, communication, assertiveness, etc.)
Driving yourself hard can be good, but trying too hard can be too much. I spotted a good example of this in a recent USA Today article on the Milwaukee Brewers record breaker, Eric Thames, who has returned from three years in Korea where he took a break to concentrate on becoming more patient and discipline to hit the breaking ball, not just the fast ball.
He learned to manage his impressive talent: “raw power, the great swing, and the work ethic”, but it just wasn’t coming together. “I was the kind of player that I put too much pressure on myself, tried to do too much”. “When I went over there, I started to read a lot more, study inner peace, meditate, really embrace the mental toughness training. I could focus on the process”. He learned to balance his approach and make the adjustments that has produced his current high level of performance. He took in information based on his insights; practiced in a new environment that allowed him to focus on the process; and he adjusted. This is the same process of leadership growth.
Leadership development is an intricate, dynamic, and fluid process. It takes time and consistent attention to this aspect of an individual’s contribution to an organization.
It does benefit from a full and comprehensive approach. We do have a tremendous amount of resources to support this process, and it is critical to keep an eye out for balance in the process and to all its elements. However, for the practitioner charged with driving this development, these are hardly satisfying pieces of information.
Let me end by addressing this in a practical manner.
1. First, create a statement that specifies the principles and philosophy of your organization’s development process.
I encourage it to address the issues of a process that are continuous and experiential. Include key concepts such as as Growth Mindset (Dweck) and Voracious Learning.
2. Secondly, keep all things in Balance using such concepts as Fear Your Strengths and the Leadership Versatility Index (LVI) by Bob Kaplan and Rob Kaiser, and Choice: the language of leaders (Watterson).
3. And finally, trust the phenomena that all things are connected (knee bone connected to the shin bone) that if you pick three transformational focal points for your program, you will be able to pull everything else along if you point out the connections.
Right now, with the current world and business climate, I like Diversity, Inclusion, and Accountability as key drivers to a leadership program.
- With Diversity, you can bring along enriched thinking skills with increased creativity balanced against logic and standard work; better strategic thinking balanced against execution; and empathy with increased perspectives from different views which facilitates change.
- With Inclusion, you can engage a broader and more complete group of followers. It also can add meaning, commitment, and a sense of belonging (team).
- And with Accountability, you get better results with a sense of integrity to owning the outcome of all choices being made. It also reinforces an individual’s sense of achievement for the collective good and the sustainability of the organization. All the other skills, abilities, values, competencies can support these three, thus the complete development picture.
Dr. David Watterson, founder of Watterson & Associates, has developed hiring systems and coordinated coaching assignments for large, multi-national organizations as well as mid-sized and privately held companies. An acclaimed speaker and author, Dr. Watterson inspires individuals, teams, and organizations to clarify their vision, assess current resources, design learning steps, focus on action and commit to results. He has served as a behavior coach and advises management on a variety of human resources subjects to improve bottom-line performance and business outcomes.