6: Many Leaders Are Not Students of Leadership
In the sixth installment of my 10 Years – 10 Truths series, I reflect on the brutal fact I’ve observed countless times in leadership development programs – many leaders aren’t students of leadership. They don’t have a passion for the role or want to get better. Yet, they remain in the job. What’s the point?
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When my team and I run leadership development programs, we often start the process with the extended leadership team. These are the most senior leaders in the organization.
The company is usually attempting a significant strategic leap. It is contending with several big strategic challenges, and knows it needs to change the trajectory of the organization to drive future success. These moments can be exciting for leaders as well as daunting and challenging.
The C-Suite leaders know they can’t do it on their own. They know they need to support their leaders to help them make the strategic leap. But in delivering these programs we often find many leaders resist the development. They attend begrudgingly, kicking and screaming through the process. Some leaders are even resentful of the development experience. It’s crazy to see.
I’ve also been curious about this. Why does it happen? Don’t leaders see the investment that is being made in them? You would think they would take in as much as they can to be better. Well, many don’t.
I know many of you may react negatively and do not want to hear this. But my job is to share brutal facts with the leaders we work with. In my discussions with these leaders, I discovered a few reasons they acknowledge their resistance:
- Leaders are overwhelmed. There is just too much to do running the current business let alone carving out time to build the business of the future. These leaders are in full-on stress mode and can’t seem to see how development would help them.
- Experience with bad leadership development. Some leaders have experienced ineffective development programs in the past, which was largely a waste of time and money, and understandably, they are skeptical and resistant.
- Leaders don’t believe they have anything to learn. Some leaders legitimately believe they are fully formed and self-actualized leaders. Given their past success, they don’t believe they have anything else to learn.
Now here’s something else I’ve observed. These leaders are also naïve. What they don’t realize is that the senior executives and peers are watching them in action. Everyone knows who is fully committed to getting better and who isn’t. I can tell you I’ve had conversations with executive teams, who start immediately identifying the leaders they can count on for the future. They also zero in on those leaders they know they won’t be able to count on – all based on how leaders show up in development programs.
So, what is the way forward? A key insight comes from legendary rock star Sting.
Those who know me know I’m a big fan of the rock group The Police and their former lead singer Gordon Sumner from Sting. I recently saw his concert and he had a masterful performance. He did this even though he was in his early seventies. The day after the concert I read an article that featured an interview with him. He was asked what has made him so successful over a fifty-year career. He said that he’s never stopped “being a student of music.” It drives his passion, curiosity, and desire to learn his craft.
This is the same characteristic I’ve seen in all the best leaders I’ve worked with over the years. They have a passion for the role. As successful as they might be, they are always growing. There is a deep curiosity about how to be a better leader. Experience and success don’t matter. These leaders know that to be a truly accountable leader means to recognize one must always be improving so one can lead the future effectively. And if your company is looking to make a strategic leap, it’s your obligation to develop yourself so you can be the best leader you can be.
Take a moment and ask yourself (and be honest): Am I a student of leadership?
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