I’ve been involved with leadership development for over 30 years—first in forming and participating in leadership teams in large and small organizations and more recently in working with global thought leaders on an individual and organizational level. Leadership development is a multi-billion dollar business, but the huge investment companies and individuals make in this work often seems to fail to produce desired results. As a recent McKinsey article put it, “There is overwhelming evidence that the plethora of services, books, articles, seminars, conferences, and TED-like talks purporting to have the answers—a global industry estimated to be worth more than $50 billion—are delivering disappointing results.” Much of the work I’ve seen companies and individuals do in this space seem to make little lasting difference.

Today I would say the best thinkers and practitioners in this space are bringing forward powerfully creative and generative ideas and practices. See for the example the work of Nick Udall, Otto Scharmer, Frederic Laloux, Seth Godin, Simon Sinek, Brene Brown. And … the road to making these offerings come alive seems to be a long one.

The best practitioners I have seen are both bold and humble—bold to share their learning and speak their truth, and humble in the face of the very personal quality of each person’s leadership journey and their own continuing learning. Helping people step into their own leadership takes time and space, gifts that call for courage and patience in a rapidly changing, highly pressured, market-driven world.

From close-up observation of the work of great leadership teachers, my sense today is that the most effective leadership work—work that makes a real difference for its participants in terms of personal and organizational growth and performance outcomes—has these qualities:

  • Everyone in the system—especially emergent leaders—is invited to truly connect on a deep level with who they are and what they want—their personal sense of identity and intention as leaders—and to help others to do the same
  • Leaders are invited to “show up”—to bring to life in the world that sense of who they are and what they want—with a blend of boldness and humility
  • The leadership work creates strong, elegant “containers”—small, intimate groups where the core of people’s personal leadership development can happen—with a beautiful mix of trust, safety, support and challenge
  • Leaders are supported to notice and to work consciously and creatively within the broad set of relationships and contexts in which they co-create value with others
  • The leadership work offers, but does not impose, a wealth of elegant frameworks, tools and stances for nurturing organizational and personal growth, including those dealing with
    • Awareness, including an appreciation of different levels of leadership awareness
    • Attention, including deep listening, seeing, hearing and empathy for self and others
    • Intention, tuning in to fundamental wants and needs
    • Stance and states of mind that leaders need and can use in different contexts, from listening and nurturing others to elegant and powerful decision and action
    • Self-expression, speaking our truth to challenge and inspire in creative, clear, generous and respectful ways
    • Transformation and growth, roadmaps for learning and change
  • The system seeking to develop leaders truly cares about people—welcoming, caring for and nurturing everyone as a leader in their own way—inviting people to care for themselves and others as they bring their leadership “magic” to life in the world.
  • Those leading and facilitating leadership programs have the caring, believable, inspiring, infectious confidence that leadership change and growth can happen personally for each participant—and in exactly the way that’s needed.

The people I most admire in the leadership development space are working in this way today.

If great work on leadership matters to you, I’d love to share experiences, insights, stories and visions of the future.

As a leader, what would you like to have happen?


Author: Scott Downs

SASDI Senior Fellow, 2017-2019 | scott@trusttemenos.com

Scott Downs is an Associate of the TrustTemenos Leadership Academy. A former banker, management consultant and entrepreneur, he now works to call forward great leaders and great organizations on the basis of great cultures.

What makes great leadership work special?