Just What Do You Mean by Leadership Development?


One of my favourite business stories:

 One day Little Johnny came home from school and asked his mother why Dad was always working late and why he had to bring work home as well.  Mommy replied that daddy has a very important job and can’t get all his work done at the office so he has to work in the evenings as well.

Little Johnny thought for a moment: “Then why don’t they put Dad in the slow group?”

In a recent Deloitte study  on UK Human Capital Trends 2014, leadership development ranked the number one concern for UK companies.  I suspect a global survey would find the need for more leaders and leadership development to be high on most senior executive’s wish list.

But what exactly do we mean by “leadership development”?

When I look across my years of experience and talk with senior executives, I find a wide range of differing definitions.  Some are adamant that leadership development means finding and training high-potential managers and executives for senior executive roles. Giving them the various experiences, jobs and advanced business training required to step up into senior leadership positions.

In other cases, “leadership development” is seen as either coaching for special needs, training for skills, personal development and communication training, and even team building programs get lumped under leadership development.

And who are the most likely recipients of the majority of leadership development? Managers and mid-level executives of course!

But could we be missing something important?  What if instead of focusing on high-potential managers and executives, we decided to build a “culture of leadership” at all levels? Which might have the greatest ROI and impact on company performance, leadership training for advancement or developing leadership skills at all levels?

Leadership is taking accountability and solving problems.  ~Colin Powell

Developing leaders or developing leadership?

Every employee can be a leader, no matter what level.  Especially if we define leadership as a set of behaviours and not just job or function knowledge.

Instead of asking: How do we develop key staff for higher level positions and responsibilities; perhaps we should be asking: How do we instill leadership behaviours in all employees?  

drucker decisions

Leadership is not knowledge as much as it is action; being accountable to fix it or see that it gets fixed, help a customer rather than passing them to someone else, solving problems rather than pushing them upwards or just saying, “sorry, not my department”, or “I’d like to but I don’t have the authority . . . ”

What if your company had a fundamental culture of leadership? What might that look like?  The benefits are many: fewer lost customers, faster problem resolution, greater teamwork, more innovation and creativity,challenge ideas to make them better, everyone takes accountability for safety, quality, ethics, customer satisfaction.

A Culture of Leadership is far more effective than developing more senior executives.  Think about it.

And thanks for joining the conversation.

John R Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

+44-208-741-6390  office
+44-7833-493-999  uk mobile
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read  John’s blog
Business Books Website

Just Published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   
FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

PS: John also writes thriller novels 







About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
This entry was posted in consulting, corporate culture, John R Childress, leadership, Organization Behavior, Personal Development, Self-improvement and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Just What Do You Mean by Leadership Development?

  1. Frank Tempesta says:

    Profound concept.


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