I’m in the business of developing leaders.
I think about it…a lot.
I read about it…a lot.
I talk about it…you get the idea.
Some of you who read my posts also have an interest in leadership, whether it’s developing your own or other’s.
That’s why I think it’s extremely important that I share with you the mistakes I make in the process. I think we can all learn from each other. Leadership development isn’t an exact science, but there are some best practices we learn along the way. I tend to be the kind of person who wants to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
This year, I started a new leadership program on our campus called The LeadershipLab. It was a monthly training event that included very practical action steps (labs!). The goal wasn’t just teaching. It included tangible training. I wanted students to experiment with what they were learning. The philosophy (which I consider foundational) is that people learn best to lead by leading. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the involvement or buy-in that I was anticipating. After the initial hype, participation began to dwindle. While feedback was always positive, students weren’t as engaged. I’ve asked a lot of questions and had a lot of conversations.
Then I realized my mistake: I didn’t do a good job of connecting the need for leadership development with a student’s felt need for leadership development.
I work from the assumption that every student will find a situation where he or she must act as a leader. While a student may agree with that assumption, he or she may not see leadership development as a priority. They can see it’s a good idea, but it’s not a good investment…right now.
Schools like Westpoint do a tremendous job at developing leaders and students (cadets) there buy in immediately. That’s because people die in the face of poor leadership. There is a tangible, if not palpable, sense of the importance of becoming the best leader one can be…right now.
While that may be an extreme example, it does point to the underlying notion that we put more effort into the areas where we feel the greatest need or see the greatest consequence. For example, I think it’s a good idea to learn Spanish. But it’s not at the top of my priority list. It would move up the list a lot quicker if I were moving to Mexico. My circumstances would change my priorities.
It’s a mistake to offer leadership development and not also demonstrate all of the why’s and how’s that being a better leader will make in a person’s life and the lives of those around them. I just assumed that students already knew it was important.
One of the Post It notes I have next to my desk asks a simple question: What happens if you don’t do your job well? It’s a question that encourages me to reflect on the level of excellence I’m putting into my work. It confronts me with the consequences of mediocrity.
My job isn’t simply the transfer of principles and practices of good leadership. It has to be more than that. I must tap into some portion of their inner motivation and heart that causes them to confront the question: What happens if I don’t lead well?
Anyone else experience this? What did you do to assist others in making the connection and moving leadership development higher up on the priority list?