Why Leadership Development Is Still Stuck In The Dark Ages

There is, without doubt, a growing realisation that leadership development is not delivering the returns that it promises:

Why Leadership Training Fails—and What to Do About It (HBR)
Why Leadership Development Programs Don’t Work (INC)
Why leadership-development programs fail (McKinsey)
All three of these articles make a strong case against leadership development orthodoxy but fail to provide a clear, coherent answer to the question: How do we develop leaders?

Surprisingly, given the intellectual and reputational firepower of all three sources, each falls short in addressing the root causes of this malaise. Whether or not Einstein suggested that ‘a problem cannot be solved at the level of thinking that created it’, nowhere does this maxim hold more truth than in the field of leadership development.

Why Doesn’t Leadership Development Work?

Leadership development doesn’t work because it fails to address the totality of who and what we are as human beings. It fails to recognise the profound depths of our inner worlds and the power and responsibility that go with what we think and feel. It fails to respect the causal nature of the mind, whilst mistakenly looking for the levers of change in the outer world of effects. And in its analysis and reduction of the objective brain, it overlooks the realities of the subjective mind.

How Do We Make Leadership Development Truly Effective?

For Leadership Development to transform our leaders, it must recognise these principles:

Leaders need to master personal leadership before they lead anyone else
Personal leadership requires Self-Awareness

Self-Awareness is observation of your inner dynamics, in the moment
Personal Or Self-Leadership

This is the ability to successfully lead yourself through the events, circumstances, vicissitudes and adversities of life. Although the concept might sound alien to some, it is enshrined in the common phrase ‘leading one’s life’ – usually used posthumously as in: ‘She led a good life’.

Self-Leadership is facilitated by, amongst others: Purpose, Integrity, Clarity, Focus and Energy. Many of us, by failing to recognise the importance of purpose, only connect with it late into our careers, denying ourselves the fulfilment that it brings.

Integrity, far from being a moral imperative, is simply a practical means of protecting yourself from personal activity that is not congruent with the values you choose to express. There are too many examples of those in high office that have ‘compartmentalised’ their lives to permit activities in an isolated sphere to be driven by desire rather than values. The fallout can be cataclysmic.

Of course mental, emotional and physical health all benefit from self-leadership, as we prioritise the well-being of all our faculties through intelligent and informed choices, not impulsion, addiction and habit.


Although psychometrics and other means of assessing the way in which we project ourselves into the world, can provide an entertaining foray into our behaviours, they do no more than scratch the surface. True Self-Awareness facilitates moment-to-moment consciousness of our inner dynamics – our cognitive and feeling worlds, and beyond. As we expand and clarify this awareness, the grip that many of our unhelpful reactive behaviours have on us, begins to weaken, developing emotional resilience in its place.

Self-Awareness also brings a progressive realisation that we can take charge of, and responsibility for, our emotions, should we choose, rather than constantly ‘…suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…’ This conscious step is both liberating and transformative – once experienced, you do not slip back inadvertently.

The Route To Self-Awareness

Self-Awareness requires self-exploration which can take the form of reflection, dialogue and mindful practices. However, as you deepen your perception, the ability to hold your attention steady and focused becomes paramount. Meditation is a powerful means of training the attention to remain still and not be distracted by a mind in motion.

As your inner clarity increases, so you being to catch sight of the myriad habits that condition and pre-dispose us to a finite set of learnt reactions. As soon you spot these deeply buried ‘complexes’, choice and freedom emerge to replace them. And with them come a peace and serenity which is the very best basis for decision-making.

The development of self-awareness provides a foundation for understanding others and hence relational development follows in its footsteps. Only when personal and relational development have progressed can true leadership development take place.

The Developing Leader

Leaders progressing along this path, that has no end, consciously bring others with them. In this way the developing leader’s focus becomes that of giving their people the opportunity to take responsibility for the totality of who they are, not just a tiny fragment of it.

Only with this approach does the development of leaders become truly effective, moving us beyond the blinkered orthodoxy that keeps leadership development stuck in the dark.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrispearse/2018/11/19/why-leadership-development-is-stuck-in-the-dark-ages/#43c843ac7523

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