Leadership Development – The Real Challenge

Intangible; unable to be touched or grasped; not having physical presence.

I am too frequently told leadership development and training is intangible and a constant challenge of being in the business of leadership development is the marketing and selling of an ‘intangible’. I do not entirely agree with this view and challenge this perspective with an alternative view; leadership is held to be intangible because we, especially leaders and managers, are generally uncomfortable with the concept of tangible leadership. There is a relatively abundant supply of case studies, reference articles, etc. articulating the benefits of undertaking leadership development in tangible, financial terms. For example, we helped turn around a struggling SME with debt of around £50k to turn over in excess of £350k, clear all debt and return a profit margin of over £15k in one year. Apologies for the advertorial but the point I am making is the benefits and effects of leadership development are definitely not intangible, more often the case is there is no pre and post development measurement of  the situation. Additionally, there is an abundance of well articulated definitions of what good leadership looks and feels like and development and training activities are what they are, visible, physical actions and events. A leader or manager has a physical presence and their actions and behaviours and the results thereof can be seen and felt.  Again, where is the intangible?

For me the real issue to address is it suits people, leaders and managers in particular, to describe leadership as intangible; it maintains the mystery and myth whilst assisting in the evasion of the easy accountability a tangible brings. Furthermore, leadership is about the effect of personal attributes, characteristics and behaviours of individuals on others, which in turn means, leadership development is about examining personal beliefs and attitudes affecting personal behaviours. Given, at least in the UK, the majority of leaders and managers effectively ‘fall’ into their roles it is unlikely they will have the personal motivation to subject themselves to a rigorous development process. Given it has been reported most leaders and managers did not want the responsibilities their role entails it is unlikely the will want to subject themselves to the scrutiny truly effective development requires. More often than not, leadership comes under real scrutiny only when it is too late; timely, proactive self development is the way of the enlightened.

I believe the real challenge of marketing and selling leadership development is not the ‘intangible’ it is more often the case most leaders and managers do not have either the desire nor the courage to address the issue until it is forced upon them or too late. Happily there are enlightened, well motivated leaders out there who have the courage and strength of mind to be proactive in their own leadership development.

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