A recent article raised an interesting question:  will we ever get leadership development right?  The article says let’s stop worrying about teaching leadership skills or competencies, and concentrate on teaching leadership “mind-set”.  This would include understanding the role of the leader, and the fact that leaders need to understand a variety of approaches that might be applied to any problem, depending upon the situation (in fact, we called this “situational leadership” back in the day).

Will we ever get leadership development right?  It seems to me that both skills and “mind-set” are required.  

If you’ve known me professionally for any length of time, you know that I’m big on building leadership competency models, with defining behaviors for each competency, before beginning development.  Such a model represents a mutually understood and agreed-upon “recipe for success” as a leader in a given organization.  It will be unique to each organization, and will establish the Will We Ever Get Leadership Development Right?framework within which we do all leadership development.

Then, it seems to me, as a separate agenda, we can talk about the role of the leader and situational leadership within that framework as well, along with other topics.  Leadership skills are just that: skills, which we must learn, like any other set of skills. 

There are a lucky few people who were apparently born leaders. 

They were the kids who were organizing and directing the other kids’ play in the pre-school sandbox. 

The vast majority of us, however, are not so lucky.  We have to learn how to lead the old-fashioned way: by building and maintaining those skills.  And not just learning them once, but re-learning them again and again as the workplace changes around us. Is this possible?  Of course it is.  The “world’s best leadership factory” (as some have called it), the US military, does this every day.  I’m a proud graduate of that “leadership factory” myself.

There is still no substitute.