And another thing… An open letter to those in the leadership development field

I am feeling a bit cantankerous these days. I thought I would take advantage of this state by giving some pointed advice to those involved in leadership development programs. Please note….I do come at this topic with a significant bias. Leadership development is vitally important to today’s organizations and those of us who are part of this effort need to significantly lift our games as we move into the future. Organizations are becoming increasingly difficult to lead and there is an extreme shortage of people who are both willing and able to step up to the challenge of leadership.

1. To authors: Enough with the 8 steps,7 dysfunctions, 6 imperatives, 5 practices, 4 situations, 3 dimensions, 2 powers and 1 secret. Organizations are excruciatingly complex, messy and unpredictable entities. They are quite indifferent to such linear formulae. Challenge our thinking. Help us adapt. Give us guidance on managing uncertainty. Encourage us to become leaders, rather than managers who do leadership.

2. To corporate executives: The fireside chats are nice; however, it would be very cool if you actually taught some of the program. If building talent is really your first priority, there is no better way of showing it. If you do not have the gift of teaching, come and be an in-class coach or mentor. As a byproduct, you’ll also learn a lot about the real challenges of leading from the middle in today’s ever more complex organizations.

3. To workshop participants: We know you are very busy and have a dozen unfinished projects on your mind. Leave them at the office so you can focus on one thing…you! This is your time, use it well. You can do little about these projects while at the workshop especially while you are fumbling with your Blackberry under the table. This workshop represents a significant investment in time and money, and your organization thinks you are worth the investment. Show up with the intention to learn and participate. Engage.

4. To HR mangers: Stop whining about not having “a seat at the table.” In this day when most organizations have a chronic undersupply of effective leaders and consider leadership development to be a strategic imperative, if you are not at “the table” already, face it…they don’t want you there. They see you as administrators, not experts in talent acquisition and development. (I’ve wanted to get that one off my chest for a long time.)

5. To LD workshop facilitators: It’s not about you. It’s about the participants’ learning. Cut the Power Points in half and help the participants understand and advance their unique leadership stories.

6. To HR executives. Temper your obsession with identifying the exact, perfect list of leadership competencies needed by your particular organization. Do you really think your managers are out there tailoring their professional development plans to these competencies?

7. To LD program designers: Stop creating programs in which the participants’ development target is some bizarre amalgamation of Mother Theresa, Bill Gates, Jack Welsh, Gandhi and Steve Jobs. The day of the hero leader is past and most of us lead from the middle of organizations. Design programs that will help us accelerate the development of our natural leadership talents so that we can make a positive impact on our organizations our way.

8. To executive coaches: I continue to meet coaches who have no idea as to what it takes to create alignment, meaning, engagement, etc. in organizations yet bill themselves as “leadership coaches.” You are not sounding boards, therapists or confidants. Your role is to help your client make a significant improvement in their leadership effectiveness. To do this well you need to have a deep understanding of organization leadership. Honor those who have spent much of their lives researching and writing in this field. Read everything. Master the research. Coach your client against the backdrop of enduring leadership principles.

9. To training department directors: Stop being so compliant in the face of training budget cuts when revenues drop. T&D is not a nice-to-have like corporate jets and Fridays-off. When times get tough, insist upon doubling or tripling your budget as a way to return to prosperity.

10. To book publishers: Give us a break. Turn off the taps for a while. I can’t read all the books on my bedside table as it is. Besides, most of the books on leadership essentially cover the same concepts and ideas. Insist that your authors have novel ideas before you go to print.

Ok, that’s all I can think of for now. If I have missed any, please send me an email.