Leadership Development: The State of the Art in Science and Practice

Leadership Development: The State of the Art in Science and Practice

Considerable resources are invested each year in developing leaders and leadership. However, although leadership development remains a pressing concern across many different types of organizations (corporate, military, education, non-profit), a large percentage of managers and other stakeholders consider their systems and practices in this domain to be “broken.” What can individuals and organisations do to better leverage opportunities of developing leaders and leadership?

Professor David V. Day, Woodside Chair in Leadership and Management, The University of Western Australia explored the issue in a public lecture organised by The HEAD Foundation (THF) on 11 October 2016.

He began by providing an overview of the findings from more than a century’s worth of research regarding leadership development, such as leadership being a dynamic process and not a static position, where leaders can emerge and change in various situations. Also important to note is how leaders develop through challenging experiences especially with support available.

While some may have a more natural inclination towards leadership positions (perhaps due to intelligence and personality earning their peers’ trust), others who do not are still capable of learning to be a leader even if they cannot be the leader. This is especially important for organisations to consider given the increasingly complex circumstances and problems they face and with no solutions readily available. In such an environment, organisations need a group of leaders and not just one.

With companies usually identifying only a small percentage of their workers for leadership potential, most individuals would then have to exert more effort and find opportunities to be leaders in their domains. In this sense, it is important that people think of themselves and of others in their organisation as potential leaders to make the most of the experiences they go through whether they are in formal leadership positions or not. Prof Day also stressed the importance of feedback not just from management but also peers as a form of support to encourage leader and leadership development.

He then elaborated on Deliberately Developmental Organizations (DDO) which has more positive views towards destabilization, weaknesses, and errors as they are considered to be important components of development. This presents an opposing approach to strengths-based leader development which Prof Day considers to be dangerous as it leads to blind spots and potential derailment.

Prof Day then addressed the audience’s questions which included effective leadership development through action learning, and getting peers’ support and feedback so individuals can develop even in when faced with an unsupportive management.

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