What if we could not teach leadership?

Leadership: is that process in which one person sets the purpose or direction for one or more other persons, and gets then to move along together with him / her and with each other in that direction with competence and commitment. Elliott Jaques 1994


I was sitting in a room with five internal Human Resources Consultants (HRC) and two organization development consultants (OD), internal to a Health Maintenance Organization HMO, discussing their internal leadership development program.

what if you can not teach leadership www.create-learning.com“We have identified a need to increase our employee engagement. Looking over our latest organizational assessment data is has indicated that 67% employees feel we have a leadership deficit.”

“I have been saying for years that we focus too much on management and not enough on leadership here!”

“Obviously we need to instill and teach our people to be leaders. Mike that is why we called you here."

Sitting, slightly sweating…I asked, “Your assessment data is good and what would you see people doing is we had a leadership surplus?”

They spun long winded and appropriate answers. It all sounded rehearsed or from a text book.

I walked to the white board and wrote.


They fell silent. One OD said, “Well that is silly of course you can teach leadership. I’ve been doing it for years.”

Then a response from HR, “OK and I think we should discuss the question…What would we do differently if we couldn’t teach leadership AND still had these same organizational assessment results?”

The question changed our entire approach

Think about it – REALLY – think about it…what if Teaching Leadership did not exist. Take away your degrees, books, lectures, power points, etc…

It would require More Than Words . More than words to show you feel that your [leadership] is real ( who doesn’t love a Mr. Big Reference? )

It forced us to stop talking about about

Transformational servants who walked around in less than a minute practicing 7 habits eating chicken soup while modeling the way from good to great constantly doing the right things. 

  • Forcing us to look at the actual work, the organizational structure and what the company needs from its people and their work.
  • Defining what attracts or repels trusting relationships within the company and with our customers, vendors and community stakeholders. 
  • Changing what we look for in promoting people. Instead of looking for Leadership Potential which has been defined by personality profiles and list of behaviors. We looked for competency and the ability to handle more complex task assignments + use observed examples of their work to determine their level of work.
  • Moving the development and training to use existing managers. Creating a coaching and managerial judgment process. 

Changing the questions changed our perspective – it can change yours also.


What do you think?

If the ability to teach Leadership did not exist what would we do different? Better?

  • In what way would training and development be different? Better?
  • How would this change your perception of people and your manager while at work?
  • What would you see that indicates that this person was showing leadership?

Team Building Leadership Innovation expert Michael Cardus

michael cardus is create-learning

Photo Credit – http://www.flickr.com/photos/zaskoda/3593464127/

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