Responsible Leadership Development

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

As leadership development professionals, we all understand the overarching goal of any leadership program we design: to improve organizational performance. But let’s take a moment to think about aspects of the potential impact of traditional leadership programs.

When MBA programs train young leaders, they typically have them work through hundreds of organizational case studies. These case studies are brief descriptions of some small sliver of a real situation. Students are asked to rapidly prescribe a solution after considering it for, at best, a couple hours.

The result: These young leaders are being trained to make decisions based on the shallowest understanding of any situation. A cold, disengaged, analytical mindset is what they are forced to adopt. In fact, this is what they are being trained to adopt through the decisions of the educators who have designed their programs. Where does engagement and true caring factor into this?

When hundreds of thousands of young leaders have been trained in this way, decade after decade, it is no wonder we’ve ended up with organizations functioning the way they do. We have organizations whose leaders fire large numbers of employees to satisfy analytical calculations; organizations who take advantage of external influences and destroy communities in the process. Cold and calculating, no doubt about it.


The work leadership development professionals do in organizations is subtle but influential. So we need to ask ourselves: Are we partly responsible for this trend within organizations? It’s not simply the content we deliver, but also the pedagogical approach that we choose. Are we reinforcing a cold and uncaring approach to leadership by having leaders take e-learning programs or listening to lectures or webinars on how to best manage employees? These common approaches disconnect the participant from reality and serve to perpetuate and reinforce a disengaged form of leadership.

As leadership development professionals, we need to think carefully about our responsibilities. Individually, we make a difference to our organization, but collectively we make a difference to our society at large. From the plastics in our ocean to the heat trapped in our atmosphere, from the failing healthcare systems we depend on to the foods that we consume, things are the way they are due to managers making decisions within their organizations. And these managers have been heavily influenced by their education at various levels and the organizational leadership programs we develop.

In the future will we say, in our defense, that we were simply doing what we were told to do?

We have a responsibility to our organizations and to society as leadership development professionals. Will you choose cold and disengaged or connected and caring?

We make a big difference in this world, so let’s decide responsibly what this difference will be.

CoachingOurselves is a Henry Mintzberg program, which results in a caring and engaged approach to management. To learn more about how CoachingOurselves is changing the face of management and leadership development, please read more about the approach.

About the Author
Phil LeNir is co-founder and managing partner of CoachingOurselves, a peer coaching program co-developed with Henry Mintzberg that enables managers and leaders to learn from and coach each other, and organizations to build capacity for self-development. LeNir has authored numerous articles and published Social and Informal Learning for Managers. Prior to CoachingOurselves, LeNir spent 15 years in management positions in high tech companies specializing in speech-recognition systems. Phil has a patent on Speech Recognition and Speaker Verification using distributed speech processing, and holds a Masters of Management and Honours Electrical Engineering degree from McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
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