Implications for the Future of Leadership Development
If this is an idea of leadership whose time is coming, what implications are there for the practice of leadership development? What will leadership development mean? What will it include? How will it be carried out?
Definitive answers to these questions are not in view, because the Paradigm in Leadership I am describing is just appearing. What is needed now are ideas of how to move from leadership development as it is practiced today toward the future – a transitional way to work with people who think of themselves as leaders in the traditional sense while opening up the possibility that in the not-too-distant future these very same people will begin to see themselves in a significantly different light.
Three changes in approaching leadership development are useful in making this transition.
Develop the Individual’s Ability to Take part. Moving the source of leadership beyond the leader and into the reciprocal relations of people working together means seeing the leader as a participant in a process, as an incomplete, interdependent part rather than a more or less autonomous initiator; motivation and evaluator.
Leadership development, then, will eventually move away from developing those personal characteristics that prepare people to act in an autonomous, tale-charge mode. It will move away from being about how to develop people who can stand alone and make the tough call (take responsibility alone) and move toward developing the capacity of people to maintain themselves as responsible, active agents within a context of interdependence (take responsibility individually and with others). The curriculum will slowly evolve toward being more about taking part than taking charge, more about interdependence than independence.
The design of such a curriculum needs to take into account People’s relative readiness to embrace interdependence, and provide supports for the challenge of stretching beyond existing concepts of authority and leadership. A related curricular change is that of developing what is considered the “leader” type of person. As the idea of leadership itself gradually changes, the idea that some people are “natural” leaders is called increasingly into question. As people gain more experience in making decisions, solving problems, and setting direction in an interdependent mode, leadership development activities geared toward bringing out the natural-leader qualities of certain leaderlike people are sure to become increasingly irrelevant. As people work more interdependently and begin to take responsibility individually and together, rather than “delegating responsibility” to a leader, they are invited to conclude that leadership is effective or ineffective more in relation to their collective ability to interrelate and less to characteristics of any one of them.
Develop People in context. Leadership development professionals will thus be invited to see individuals in context. Relationships are of more central concern, not just thinking more about how people enter into and conduct themselves in relationships (interpersonal skills) but significantly shifting the focus of concern from individuals to the interrelationship of individuals. In other words, to see individuals in context, to usefully take account of the interrelatedness of people so as to view leadership as a reciprocal meaning making process, it is useful to shift the way the individual is viewed (Gergen, 1994). Instead of thinking that my relationship with you is conflicted because I am argumentative and you are rigid in your thinking (our characteristics and qualities are “causing the relationship” to be what it is,) we are invited to see in addition how our interrelatedness brings my argumentativeness and your rigidity into being (our interaction makes us who we are).
This view of relationships as the ground of personal qualities and behavior in turn opens the way to understanding how something like leadership-direction giving, value creating, inspirational-can arise not “in” an individual but in the joint action, the reciprocal relatedness, of individuals.
As I said before, new ideas about leadership suggest that leadership development is less and less about enhancing generalizable abilities of individuals. The leadership development curriculum will move toward being about taking part, not taking charge. with a shift in viewpoint toward the interrelational nature of the individual, the leadership development professional is invited to think more about leadership development as the enhancement of interrelating in specific contexts.
As leadership becomes more an idea of shared meaning making, leadership development activities need to pay attention to the quality of interrelating its possible forms, how people can effectively participate in these various forms, and so forth. In other words, the quality of leadership is seen to be related to the vitality of interrelating; to develop leadership, we are being called on to develop the process of interrelating toward skilled, mindful, heedful forms. Recent interest in dialogue in organizations as an approach to organizational learning (Isaacs, 1996) is complementary to this focus.
To emphasize, this is not just interpersonal training warmed over as leadership development. Interpersonal skills training, while quite likely to remain useful in a new leadership development context, tends to make the assumption that interpersonal skill is an individual capacity exercised in a social setting. This assumption diverts attention from the reciprocal way that interrelating creates roles or parts to play, and thus the way that relatedness creates people to fill those roles and parts. It is this whole activity of reciprocating relationships that might be addressed in a revised leadership development curriculum. In a later paper, I’ll describe the Personal Creative Interchange Incentive course.
Develop the Leadership Capacity of Work Groups. With this new Paradigm in Leadership, the focus of leadership development activity shifts away from the individual and toward the interdependent work group. In the future, leadership development will be aimed at improvements in the quality of interrelating among people engaged in interdependent work.
This brings leadership development into the domain of what we have come to think of as team development (team building) or even organization development, yet with a distinct difference. Older Paradigms in Leadership see organizations and teams as objects of leadership activity; the individual leader acts on a team, workgroup, or organization. The team, workgroup, or organization is an entity outside of, and in some ways distinct from, the leader.
The new Paradigm in Leadership invites a different conception of the team and the organization: not as an entity outside the individual that the individual “joins,” but rather the sum total of all interactions. It is less a “thing” that individuals can join and upon which they can act than it is a constantly evolving and changing pattern of interrelationships that individuals create and that creates them.
But when we change the view of the organization from that of a “thing” to that of a vital pattern of reciprocal relations, what about the leaders? How can they participate in the organization as if they are a part of it and not separate from it, above it, acting on it ? The traditional view assumes that leadership is a process that rank-and-file workers can be allowed to enter into by the dispensation of leaders (who “own” the process). The emerging view sees leadership as an all-embracing process that people occupying traditional leadership roles – and thus limited by traditional expectations (their own and others’) – need to work extra hard to get in on.
The leadership development profession is therefore being called on to find ways to work in the context of these patterns of reciprocal relations. what we have thought of as team building and organization development is being called on to expand toward leadership development, while what we have thought of as leadership development is being called toward the realm of group development. Perhaps these two domains of developmental work – the individual and the organizational, individual learning and organizational learning – are bound to meet somewhere in the middle in service of a new concept of leadership: the Creative Interchange Process.
 Isaacs, William. Dialogue and the art of thinking together. A pioneering approach to communication in business and in life. New York: Doubleday, 1999.