When I ask leaders I’m working with who owns their leadership development, almost to a person they point their finger at themselves and say “I do.” They know they should. I know I should too. And yet, day in and day out, we don’t. Why? Three reasons after the jump.
The three barriers to owning our leadership development are three mistaken assumptions:
1. The assumption that the company owns our Leadership Development
Our first mistake is to act as if the “owner” of our leadership development is the company we work for. Specifically, we assume on a very basic level that the HR function of our company has, as its special responsibility, the task of developing us as leaders. If they don’t give us good classes, if they don’t provide good mentoring opportunities, if they don’t develop good pipelines and paths that we can follow upward in the organization, then how can we be held responsible if we don’t develop as leaders? Its their job, for goodness sake! We think this because companies today are specialized. Engineers do engineering. Product Management does product management. HR develops us as “human resources.” This is, of course, absurd. Human resources can no more drive the process of our leadership development than they can drive us to have healthy marriages, healthy families, or healthy lives. Thinking they can is like thinking that the facilities function can make us better drivers because they are responsible for the parking lot. What HR can do is create the conditions under which we will develop if we work hard at it, but they cannot drive the process. Ever. The same argument applies in small organizations when we think that our boss owns our leadership development. He or she doesn’t. The sooner we really take to heart that no one else can ever own our leadership development, the sooner we will act as if we do.
2. The assumption that Leadership Development will be quick
The second assumption that gets in our way is the assumption that leadership development should be quick. We are reinforced in this assumption by the structure of leadership development processes in our organizations. We go to one, two or even three day classes. We take webinars. We are looking for the “one minute” solution. When leadership development isn’t quick, we think that something is wrong, usually with HR for not providing us with the right resources. Lets start, though, with the following more realistic assumption: It will take roughly as many hours to learn to be an effective leader as it will or would to become an effective golfer. The skills are roughly equivalent in terms of their level of complexity (there are those who would argue golf is much more complex, some who would argue for the comparative complexity of leadership – I’ve been doing both for many years and they are both hard). In golf, here’s what it takes: two or three days of very hard work will let you learn how to pick up the club correctly. Two or three months of hard work will give you the very basic mechanics of the game. Two or three years of consistent deliberate practice will get you in the low nineties or high eighties. Along the way you will spend thousands of hours and thousands of your own dollars learning. You won’t learn about playing golf by doing “related” activities – walking, swinging tennis rackets, bowling, etc. The only time when you will get better at golf is when you are focused specifically on getting better at golf. There will be no shortcuts, no “one minute golfer” techniques. For anyone reading this who plays golf, you’re nodding your head. You know. As an executive coach I know that leadership development will take time and that, just like golf, improvement will come to those who work for it. Patiently, deliberately and with reflection.
3. The assumption that Leadership Development will be easy
Finally, we go astray when we assume it will be easy. It won’t be. Like anything worth doing, it will be hard. Some days, you will despair. You will go months and it will feel like you’re not making any progress and then you’ll have two or three days where it feels like you can’t do anything wrong. Neither perception is accurate. The best way to think about what kind of difficulty you will face is the difficulty faced by the entrepreneur. If you accept ownership for your leadership development you are accepting the role of founder in the company called “You Co.” You are taking responsibility for the success of this new company. You’ll take on any roles that need taking on. If the copy machine is broken, you’ll fix it or call the person who can. If you want to be an economic success, you’ll spend your time and money where it will yield genuine competitive advantage. You will be disciplined, tenacious, and you will learn to pick yourself up after getting knocked down – over and over again. Owning things is hard work. Things break. Things need TLC. When we own something and it doesn’t do exactly what we want we are stuck with it. We can either fix it, learn to live with what it does do, or learn to live without it. Owning “You Co” is the same way. Be the founder. Make it yours.