What does it take to develop the next generation of leaders, considering how rapidly the world is changing now? We’ve done the experiment many times with the same results: sending people to “leadership training” events and executive programs helps but is insufficient. We need to stop thinking about limited-scope training and start thinking about full-scope development.
There are four elements to this leadership development strategy.
First, we need to inspire and identify those people longing to go deeper. Look for longing, rather than “want to,” because the way is hard enough that only those longing to persist in the face of difficulties. The route to greater leadership is through the difficulties. This requires work on our part to inspire others by what we do and what we say.
Second, we need a life-on-life strategy. You can pass along information (and you should) but information without practice and feedback is insufficient to develop leaders. Leaders aren’t simply people who have read more than others. Life-on-life is the required level of investment. We need to work alongside the next generation, give them stretch assignments, consciously preparing to launch them to accomplish greater things than we have done.
Third, we must emphasize principles and wisdom. We live in an age of distraction, abundant information, and trendy tactics and buzzwords. It’s always been important for leaders to focus their finite energy and time on the critical few actions which matter. It’s always been important for leaders to make decisions based on a sound framework of principles. Working with people has always required wisdom. Paraphrasing Martin Luther, the enemy of great leadership rests content if we are overcome with muchness, manyness, and noise. Principles and wisdom, hard-won, will allow them to reach escape velocity.
Fourth, we must model the healthy rhythm of solitude and community. Leaders need others – networking, connections, insights, support. We must go deep with small group of people with whom we can be transparent, in order to be authentic with a large group of people we lead. Yet leadership without solitude will never break through the problems of the day. This rhythm of solitude and community is less taught and more caught.
Executing these four elements is expensive, and will be effective.
There is a big payoff, too: You’ll get continually better yourself. There are simply some things we do not learn and master until we teach them to others, and share our lives. This is an old truth from thousands of years of handing down craft skills from one generation to the next. The way forward for us requires reaching back and helping others come along. This is the open secret of developing the next generation of leaders.