It is my enduring belief that leadership is not an inherent talent — it can be developed. The fact that successful leaders with different personalities and styles have been observed throughout history provides supporting evidence that, in many contexts, leveraging individual strengths and capabilities uncovers innate leadership talent. The only requirement is an investment in developing the requisite leadership values, knowledge, attributes and talents.
I also believe learning professionals see leadership development as an academic pursuit instead of viewing it as a holistic instrument. I don’t think anyone ever followed a leader just because of his or her intellect and knowledge. Rather, I think people align themselves with a leader based on emotional, social and/or spiritual realms.
My goal is to pursue the creation and application of more holistic framework development programs, by addressing four critical dimensions of leadership for the 21st century.
The intellectual development of a leader focuses on strategic thinking, the acquisition of new knowledge, and industry and business insights — elements that subject-matter experts and faculty in business school executive education programs typically deliver. The main objective is to bring leaders up to speed in areas where they lack knowledge for their existing role or to prepare them for a larger role in the organization.
Emotional and Social Competence
Getting things done in enterprises and working through issues of transformational change requires leaders to have superior skills in establishing and maintaining relationships. Leaders must have a solid understanding of how their actions and behaviors affect others and how others within the organization perceive them. Emotional intelligence has emerged as a critical issue in many leadership development and executive coaching programs.
Physical and Mental Health
Many leaders work long and demanding days, sometimes combined with intensive (international) travel and irregular times for exercise, relaxation and even meals. Research shows that maintaining a healthy body and mind requires regular exercise, relaxation and stress-reduction techniques and a healthy diet. Awareness and development in physical and mental health must be an important aspect of leadership programs and can be incorporated through experiential learning initiatives.
Spiritual development, to a large extent, centers on the personal values of leaders. What is important for them in life? What do they want to achieve personally? How do they envision their legacy? How do they treat people? What’s their vision on the world and the environment? How do they connect with people?
Why is spiritual development of leaders important? Personal values and beliefs influence judgment, decisions and behaviors. They also shape organizational culture. And leaders lead by example. Their actions are carefully watched and followed by others, creating the organizational climate and influencing the overall ethics of the organization.
A Holistic Approach
The complex demands of the 21st century require leaders who are skilled and aware in all four areas.
Typically, bright leaders are comfortable in the academic, knowledge-based intellectual realm that lends itself perfectly to speed of implementation. The spiritual and emotional realms are more challenging. They require purpose, pause and reflection.
They also require leaders to slow down in order to speed up. A true leader embraces all four areas as important to his or her development. And the rewards in the latter three are considerable once they’re embraced. The challenge is to get people to accept exploration into those realms as a valid, productive aspect of leadership development.
Nick van Dam, Ph.D., is global chief learning officer for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. He is founder of the e-Learning For Kids Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.