Learning Leadership: The Practicality Trap

September 12, 2011


Great leaders take the right actions at the right time to achieve the influence they desire over their followers.

Determining the right actions is a skill that is enhanced through a foundational understanding of leadership and motivational theory – the education part of the leadership equation.  Where formal education largely falls flat is in the transition to the real world.  This failure challenges the credibility and utility of the educational process.

Square Peg in a Round Hole??

The application of  leadership theory is situational.  It is dependent on the unique circumstance and perception and ability of the follower.  Wrong diagnosis and leader effort is wasted and follower motivation suffers.  Formal education is great at explaining the theories but not so great at teaching leaders the diagnosis process. Few patients improve when the Doctor’s diagnosis is flawed.  This is one significant educational failure, that is often followed closely by another.

Proper Treatment

A proper diagnosis does the patient little good unless it results in the proper treatment.  The diagnosis should inform leader actions – a gap in most formal leadership education.  Great leaders understand that the art of leadership occurs in the way they take these actions. The proper application of leader actions is unique to the situation.  The ‘how’ is just a critical as the ‘what’.  Formal education struggles to find a way to effectively address this process.

Do What Others Have Done

So why not short circuit the process and just choose a successful leader to role model?  Emulating the successful acts of others can be highly effective in many endeavors but does not work as well with leadership because it can ignore unique circumstances and follower attributes.  Bookstores are full of great offerings telling us how to lead according to one person’s or organization’s way.  Each of these can inform our leadership but few are directly transferable to our unique situations.

Having a System

Enduring leaders have a system that takes into account the knowledge provided by motivational and leadership theory.  They select informed leader actions based on their diagnosis, the follower and the situation.  They plan the best way to implement these leader actions in order to maximize follower motivation, satisfaction and performance. They work their plan and they follow-up with an assessment of the results of their actions and adjust accordingly.  Leadership education that fails to address the process fails to prepare successful leaders.

Please comment on ways that you have found to develop effective, enduring, adaptable leadership.





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