Part I: Solving the Leadership Crisis Requires a New Approach That Is Based in Truth

In an earlier post, I pointed to recent research by Deloitte that indicates we are facing a massive leadership crisis in business.  In a follow-up article, Deloitte defined crisis as:

A major catastrophic event, or a series of escalating events, that threatens an organization’s strategic objectives, reputation, or viability — can be one of two types: routine or novel.

That depiction of the state of leadership may seem stark yet you don’t have to do extensive research to recognize the crisis we are facing in the world today. More startling is the fact that even though most executives would agree there is a greater need to engage authentic leadership in their organizations, Deloitte found that 44% of the organizations who took part in the survey stated their leadership programs are weak in addressing the challenge. So if leadership is so important to business, politics and our personal lives, the question becomes why is the effort to develop it so lacking?

First, this crisis is not due to a lack of understanding of leadership. For example, If you search the term “leadership’’ on, and you will find 163,182 titles, and when you search for management books you find over 780,000 titles! In short, ‘knowing’ what leadership is and understanding its competencies is not leading to the demonstration of leadership. Why is this?

The answer is simple. We have approached the development of leadership in a way that does not consistently and powerfully foster true, authentic leadership in those we attempt to develop. This current approach to developing leaders comes from a misconception. That misconception is that we can reverse engineer leadership by studying it and then training people in its competencies. And because we have approached the development of leadership in a less than effective way, the return on investment has not met the grade. And to be honest this may be a contributing factor for organizations’ hesitancy to invest in robust programs that start at the top.

To be honest, my profession has contributed to this, and I will be the first to admit for many years I drank the Kool-Aid of this idea you can ‘reverse engineer’ leadership. Reverse engineering training works for more practical and technical skills. Looking at competencies and framing them in a training format can also be effective for certain management skills. Yet, leadership is something completely different because the transformation of the individual into a leader is more about a shift in one’s orientation to life. This orientation must be shifted in one’s broader consciousness which is the foundation of skill.

In their book “Mastering Leadership An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results,” published just this year, Bob Anderson and Bill Adams do a great service to a world craving more leadership and to what I am pointing to in this post. Bob Anderson has done some of the most extensive research I have ever seen on how leadership develops. Through his extensive research, Anderson discovered that the competencies of leadership align with a previously define stage of adult development. And while an individual’s progress along the stages of adult development is not as predictable in their emergence, as stages of child development, human beings have within their capacity to develop their consciousness and as they do more power comes in their ability to contribute.

Anderson found that competencies of leadership tightly align with a particular and previously defined stage of adult development that he calls the creative stage.  And not only that, the stage of adult development, he calls ‘reactive’ strongly aligns with competencies that managers and executives elicit before they emulate leadership (a table comparing these two stages is shown below).

Even more compelling is the understanding that just as in child development, when an adult awakens to a new stage of development in their consciousness, a new perspective ignites and the competencies aligned with this point of view automatically ‘boot up. on what is essentially a new operating sytem. The point is – leadership competencies will not be appreciated or applied for someone in a stage before Anderson’s ‘Creative Stage.’  Therefore trying to train these competencies in prior to the expansion of consciousness has little impact on the expression of leadership in an individual. In other words, trying to drill skills into an individual’s consciousness before their readiness doesn’t support the development of leadership. It is like throwing seeds on dry parched soil expecting them to grow. We all must realize this and approach leadership development in a new way that elicts a wake call in a human beings’ consciousness.

So given we are facing a major crisis in leadership and given the current approach to developing leadership is flawed, what can we do to foster growth in leadership? Again, Anderson’s research points to the answer. What Anderson found is that the development of leadership in an individual must start in a person’s inner landscape. In other words, the inner game (where one places their attention and how they make meaning of the world) must shift to a place that becomes more creative. When this inner shift takes place, leadership competencies the person will begin to demonstrate these competencies and at this stage will be more open to engaging in practices that will strengthen the new skills.

All that said, my last post, The Secret Inner War at The Root of All Problems, points to the challenge we face in catalyzing more awakenings in leadership. In short, the ego structure in the stage of development prior to leadership is based on fear and the need to control (see table above). To develop as a leader you MUST let go of limiting views and this creates a dilemma for those who say they want to become a true leader. And as I mentioned earlier, unlike more predictable stages of child development, the jump to higher stages of adult development are not so predictable and just as a child will not grow on command, neither will adults. Individuals who reside in the earlier reactive stage have to be willing to challenge and dismantle their current way of seeing the world. This new way of seeing the world is something the ego resists and the only way to ignite change is to clearly show the limitations of the current stage in which one resides. As mentioned in my last post, the catalyst for this shift typically happens when an individual faces some challenge to their success, their health, their relationships or begin to feel an emptiness in their achievements and starts to challenge their autonomy and begins to wonder what all their efforts are really adding up to.

The question now – do we have the luxury of waiting for a crisis to arouse all these leaders to expand their consciousness or can we create an alarm clock to wake executives up to the current limitations without such a crisis? In my next post, I will address this and show a pathway that can work to speed up the shift that must happen. It is not complicated and offers a more genuine way to transform leaders. This change in awareness can start by educating people to the truth about how human beings make sense of the world and how the reactive style limits an executive’s success and personal fulfillment. The key in this education is that it must go beyond an intellectual presentation. The aspiring leader must recognize in their own experience how they are limiting themselves through their current way of operating. Again, more to come in my next post.

About the Author David

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