Most academics prefer to provide a detailed explanation and critical evaluation of major theories, and a comprehensive review and evaluation of empirical research. They are more interested in how well the research is done and what additional research is needed than in the practical applications. In contrast, most practitioners want some immediate answers about what to do and how to do it in order to be more effective as leaders. They need to deal with the current challenges of their job and cannot wait for decades until the academics resolve their theoretical disputes and obtain definitive answers. Most practitioners are more interested in finding helpful remedies and prescriptions than in finding out how this knowledge was discovered.

Most of our description of history is the story of military, political, religious, business and social leaders who are credited or blamed for important historical events, even though we do not understand very well how the events were caused or how much influence the leader really had.

Why do some leaders have loyal followers who are willing to sacrifice their lives, whereas other leaders are so despised that subordinates conspire to murder them?

Do you realize the importance of leaders in the organization? Do you feel that there is a short supply of leaders within your organization? Is your organization planning for developing leaders? Are you thinking of designing leadership development programs? Are you looking for someone who can design the best leadership development process for your organization? The following frequently asked questions can help you to prepare your organization better for developing leaders.

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What is leadership and why do we talk about it?

Unprecedented trends like the movement of capital and other market instruments around the globe; the movement of human beings across borders; the movement of information through cyberspace; and the movement of popular culture across borders have outdated the pace of previous decade, and throw upon much bigger challenges to organizations across world. The uncertainty that comes with such environment is compounded with accelerated and profound changes in today’s business world – technological, cultural, economic and personal. The net effect is increasing anxiety, insecurity, and more pressure than ever before on today’s employees, managers, leaders and organizations.

We observe that some firms grow while others contract; some companies are immensely profitable while others hemorrhage cash; some gain market share and some lose it. And, so becomes leadership important for any organization.

The success of any organization depends on its leadership. Although a good deal of research has been done on leadership, it is difficult to say what it is. Yet, the advice given to managers about leadership and leader-development is often overly complex and sometimes contradictory. Leadership is one of the most complex and multifaceted phenomena in organization. Leadership as a concept has interested psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, and management scientists. Significant efforts have been made by researchers since the 1920s to understand the concept of leadership.

Leadership cannot be summed up by a list of action points. Leadership is an active interaction with the world and involves bringing new possibilities from within real constraints. The question of what it takes to be a good leader has been the subject of much thought and research. We live, lead and work in an era of contradictory forces.

Leadership is the reciprocal process of mobilizing persons with certain motives and values, economic, political, and other resources, in a context of competition and conflict, in order to realize goals independently or mutually held by both leaders and followers. The process is not a simple or smooth one, nor is it predetermined. Leaders can also shape and alter and elevate the motives and values and goals of followers through the vital teaching role of leadership.

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Is my organization ready for leadership development?

Before we start for any leadership development program, we need to ensure that our organization is ready for change. Leadership cannot exist without purpose. There shall be a strong support from the decision makers for organizational growth through leadership development. The top management shall prepare organizational strategy, human resource policy and organizational structure which facilitate leadership development. Right kind of environment, with growth opportunities, shall be provided to those who demonstrate leadership potential. Making organization ready for leadership development shall be a strategic decision, which needs to be aligned with intent of the organization for future. Don’t make your organization responsible for destruction of leadership.

Leaders cannot grow in isolation. Nor they grow in stable situation. They need to be harnessed amid challenging and difficult situations. Leadership development shall be a systematic process which focuses on organizational vision, strategic direction and organizational capabilities.

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How shall leaders be developed within organization?

Leadership is best learned within the context in which it will be practiced. When connected to the company’s context, leadership development efforts help managers see real and immediate value in acquiring new behaviors; such efforts can be a powerful tool for building organizational capability. Leadership’s lessons are best learned from those who are trusted and well respected inside their own organizations.

One of the widely used methods of preparing for challenges is by looking at what others have done when their leadership was on the line. By examining their experience and asking what they did and what they could have done, and by wondering what you would have done yourself, you can better anticipate what you should do when faced with your own leadership challenges.

In striving toward excellence, we try to identify great leaders’ qualities and behaviors so we can develop them ourselves. Nearly, all corporate training programs and books on leadership are grounded in the assumption that we should study the behaviors of those who have been successful and teach people to emulate them. But when leaders do their best work, they don’t copy anyone. Instead, they draw on their own fundamental values and capabilities – operating in a frame of mind that is true to them.

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What shall be the process for leadership development?

Leadership is situationalnonhierarchical and relational.

Leadership development process shall be customized as per the organizational requirements. Leaders learn how to lead from experience. Formal training can help, but it’s no substitute for learning on, and off, the job.

When a leader succeeds, it will be because he has learned two basic lessons: Men are complex, and men are different. Human beings respond not only to the traditional carrot and stick used by the driver of donkey but also to ambition, patriotism, love of the good and the beautiful, boredom, self-doubt, and many more dimensions and patterns of thought and feeling that make them human.

The successful leaders are those who are keenly aware of the forces which are most relevant to their behavior at any given time. They accurately understand themselves, the individuals and groups they are dealing with, and the company and broader social environment in which they operate.

Successful leadership is combination of professional and personal leadership. We define professional leadership as providing direction, process, and coordination to the members of an organization for the purpose of attaining the organization’s goals. We define personal leadership as the personal behavior of leaders in performing the responsibilities of professional leadership, including demonstrating expertise, building trust, caring and sharing for people, and acting in a moral way.

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What methodology should be used in leadership development?

Practically, all formal training programs attempt to change the individual; many of them assume explicitly or implicitly that there is one style of leadership or one way of acting that will work best under all conditions. Others assume that the training should enable the individual to become more flexible or more sensitive to his environment so that he can adapt himself to it.

Depending on the nature of profile and objectives, different methodologies shall be used. They are case study, action learning projects, on-the-job assignments, job rotations, job enhancements, job enrichments, management games, etc.

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What shall be ideal time frame for leadership development?

Once we are clear about the scope of the developmental activities, it becomes easier to define time frame for leadership development. Any organization shall dedicate a year to 3 for setting up initial objectives, and up to 10 years for strategic upliftment of the organization. Considerable thoughts shall be provoked before setting up any time frame for leadership development.

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Is there a standard model for leadership development?

Commonly, the successful executive was generally pictured as possessing intelligence, imagination, initiative, the capacity to make rapid (and generally wise) decisions, and the ability to inspire subordinates. People tended to think of the world as being divided into “leaders” and “followers.”

There are so many models, programs and processes for leadership development which have been used by practitioners across the world. Shall leadership development programs focus on leadership characteristics or traits, or competencies, or skills, or behaviors, or attitude? Is there a standard recipe for leadership development? Shall we imitate any particular leader and can we become like him or her? Is there any universal leadership formula?

To get the best results for leadership development, learning and teaching needs to be interwoven. Leaders need to be developed for business acumen, cognitive abilities, interpersonal development, spiritual, psychological, emotional knowledge.

So far leadership has been tackled as butterfly catching. Researchers, management theorists and practitioners have brandished their nets in an effort to find the genuine article. They have taken leadership as an objective “reality” and worked to identify common aspects such as behaviors, competence or skills.

If the copious leadership literature reveals a consistent theme, it is the lack of effort toward integration. While generalized definitions and disparate theories abound, it is difficult to find a useful operational definition and an integrative framework of leadership

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How shall we measure the leadership development process?

Once accountability for leadership development is clarified and investments are made in process excellence, the appropriate metrics must be put in place to help managers judge whether investments in leadership development are paying off. Rather than dwelling on “activity analysis”, companies should link leadership-development investments to building the capabilities that will produce superior business results.

While concepts, rules and ideas may help guide a person in training, a true leader carries his/her mission in his/her heart – it is not external rules that make the person. The leader models the way not by following outer form but by seeing their work as their way of being.

Leaders are effective only as far as followers are willing to be led.

Leadership is not about person, position, or power. Leadership is about purpose, choice, and results.

For more details, Dr. Shital Badshah can be reached at Shital@GrowthCatalystIndia.com or +91 94284 19021.

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