Leadership development: Seeking the perfect CEO

October 8, 2014 by Wally Bock

You’d like Tom. Pretty much everybody does. He’s a people person with a great personality. He’s just finished his third, successful stint as a CEO. He’s a gourmet cook, a husband and father who’s got a good relationship with grown kids. He’s a happy guy, but hardly what the Economist would call a “philosopher king.”

When I read the Economist article with that title, or David Brendel’s recent HRB blog post, “How Philosophy Makes You a Better Leader,” I thought of Tom and men and women like him.

They’re doing good work. They have happy and successful lives. And now we want to develop them into super heroes or, at the very least, da Vinci-like polymaths. That’s not smart.

Leadership development’s goal

The goal of leadership development is to develop the leadership skills of men and women in our organizations. If we achieve that, the places where we work will be economically and socially productive. More people will have the opportunity to realize their amazing potential. That’s a good and worthy goal.

When we try to do more than that two things happen. We set ourselves up for failure. And we spend time and money and attention on things that don’t help us achieve our core goal.

Leadership development’s reality

The reality is that we are human beings working with other human beings. Our capacity and resources are limited. The challenge isn’t perfection. It’s doing the best we can with the materials and tools available.

Trying to develop “philosopher kings” may be a noble goal, but it’s like tilting at windmills. If we choose to develop “philosopher kings” we will develop precious few of them. And we will wind up with fewer good CEOs and call center supervisors, too.

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

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