I have worked with hundreds of aspiring leaders over the past twenty years as a leadership development consultant. Those that have made the greatest strides embodying leadership have been those who have been willing to embrace the unique expression of leadership within them and who did the work to evolve. There have been many others who while they coveted the idea of leadership, shunned the work.
I remember one demanding CEO who brought me in to develop leadership in his direct reports and said ‘David, I am too far along to change, I am who I am and don’t see any benefit from engaging in some process to become different.’ While he saw the value in developing leadership in others, he felt it was not for him. Inherent in such an executive is the fear that if I change, I will not be as successful. And to be fair, during the tenure of this CEO the company’s stock price continually climbed and many were made rich because of it. This example of resistance is at the core of why we face a leadership crisis in organizations today. It speaks to three misunderstandings that many executives have when it comes to the value of engaging the leadership development process.
The first misunderstanding is that success is a measure of the mixture of traits I currently have as a person. The concern is that if I step back and begin to examine at how I approach my executive role, it will diminish my impact. I point here to the 80/20 or Pareto rule that states that 80% of outcomes result from 20% of our efforts. The CEO in question was clearly a success by most measures, but from my point of view, most of this success came from his sharp intellect and intuitive feel for both business and the industry. This CEO was also known for diminishing others, playing his direct reports against each other and using fear to drive results. The illusion this CEO was facing in his resistance to further development was the belief that the entire package of approaches he took created his success. I cannot imagine the level of success that might have been possible had he seen the error of his judgment.
The second misunderstanding that creates an obstacle to the development of leadership is the idea that I have to do something different to become a leader and that this shift in doing will take great effort. The illusion here is that somehow the development process will take away from my current efforts and there is a sense that getting over that mountain is hard work. However, in all my years doing this practice I have never seen the development process get in the way of an executive’s roles and accountabilities. Sure, if you are investing in the development process, you want to give it the effort and time it deserves, but this is true any investment you wish to have a return. Plus, the fundamental focus of any sound leadership development process is not about making tactical changes in behaviors. It is an endeavor that involves increasing self-awareness and understanding your effect on others. When an intelligent executive sees they can create a better result with a new approach there is no heavy lifting in making the change – they just shift their approach.
The third misunderstanding many sense is the effort involved in being a leader requires more energy and thus adds stress to an already stressful role. The opposite is true. In my last blog post, I featured a recording of a Webinar by Bob Anderson and Bill Adams. Bill and Bob have done groundbreaking research on the impact of leadership on business metrics. One of the statistics they culled from is that stellar leadership produces an 8 to 1 ratio of effort versus impact. Whereas the statistics also reveal that poor leadership provides a return of .9 to 1 on effort versus impact. Long story short, poor to average leadership vastly increases the stress on the job. As you raise your level of leadership, the sense of effort and stress drops and the results increase!
The biggest challenge with integrating leadership development for hard-charging, successful executives is helping them see through these misunderstandings. In the end, it is their ego that stops them from realizing the greater impact and lower stress that’s possible when one engages the development process. That said, if you say you want to be a leader, you have to challenge the misunderstandings that can hold you back. If you do, research shows that your job will be far more rewarding and the results will be there or will improve.