News & Views‎ > ‎

On Leadership Development, Part 1

posted Jul 30, 2011, 9:42 PM by Greg Smith   [ updated Nov 1, 2015, 12:41 PM ]
From time to time my wife reminds me that a mother's work is never done (she's right). I tend to think that this truism applies equally well to management. In other occupations it seems that certain milestones naturally indicate accomplishment--for example, meeting a manufacturing or sales target for a given period. Managing people is a lot different. It doesn't readily afford the sense that something has been brought to fruition. And what seems to be running well at a point in time won't necessarily continue to do so for long.

I've been around long enough to see discontinuity in business operations, and it's not a pretty sight. Having expended a lot of effort since 2003 to build a strong library/computer lab operation at Liberty University, I suppose I'm becoming more sensitive to concerns such as business continuity, leadership development, and succession planning. Not surprisingly, my attention has gravitated toward these themes in the reading I've chosen recently.

In the last few weeks I've read articles entitled "Who Will Step Into Your Shoes?" (Sanaghan & Jurow, 2011) and "Developing the Expert Leader" (McCall & Hollenbeck, 2008), each of which stimulated thought along these lines. I'm growing in my conviction that organizations large and small need to take concrete steps to ensure two things:
  • that information essential to successful operations is shared redundantly between employees, thus minimizing the impact of a sudden departure
  • that people are being prepared to assume leadership roles--proactively, long before the timing of a particular vacancy is known
As I read McCall and Hollenbeck's piece, I was intrigued to learn about corporations' failure to develop expert leaders. As I continue to reflect on what they wrote, my intuition tells me that nonprofit higher education does an even poorer job of cultivating leaders than the corporate world does. I recall conversing with a dean from another university last fall, and hearing her opine that deans embark on their duties ill prepared for their role in institutional governance. I have to admit that much of my own leadership development has occurred unsystematically and without employer oversight.

In Part 2 of this posting I'll reflect on a number of McCall and Hollenbeck's postulates concerning leadership development.