Leadership development: A Different Kind of Work

April 3, 2019 by Wally Bock

Leadership development starts with picking men and women we think will succeed as leaders. We do an awful job of that.

The biggest mistake we make is that we promote people based on their success at a different kind of work. We take top salespeople and promote them to sales manager. We ask top marketing analysts to become team leaders. We do this all the time, but it wouldn’t make sense in any other context.

Would you suggest that a person become a plumber because she was a great cook? Would you suggest a fellow take up mountain climbing because he was good at pinochle?

When you put it that way, it seems silly, but we do it all the time. That’s because we don’t think of leadership as a special kind of work.

Leadership Development for Leadership Work

Leadership isn’t a different position on the org chart. It’s a different kind of work from what individual contributors do. Leaders must make decisions. Leaders must confront other people about performance or behavior that needs to change. No other kind of work demands that. But there’s a difference that’s even more important.

The most important thing that sets leadership work apart from other work is that a leader is that we evaluate leaders on the success of his or her team. That’s scary. 

When you’re an individual contributor and you want to do better, all you have to do is decide and then do it. But when you’re a leader, the people on your team must make a diligent and coordinated effort to accomplish the team’s mission. Your job is to create an environment where that’s likely. You also must care for your team members and help them grow and develop. 

Leadership Development: Picking Winners

You’ll get the most out of your leadership development investment if you do everything you can to select people are likely to succeed. Science can help. There are tests and assessment tools you can use to increase your odds of success.

You can do something else, too. Pick people for leadership roles who enjoy helping other people succeed. That’s not the only criterion. They still need to be smart enough and have the required technical expertise. They need to have street cred with the people they will lead.

We can’t train people to enjoy helping others succeed. It’s something they must show up with. For my money, though, it’s a must-have. Without that joy in helping others succeed, all the rest of the stuff won’t be very effective. With it, you may just develop a great leader. 

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

Posted in Leadership Development

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