On Leadership Development

Part 1

July 30, 2011

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; free version available here), 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.

Part 2

July 31, 2011

As I stated in Part 1, authors Morgan McCall and George Hollenbeck got my attention with their article "Developing the Expert Leader." All eight of their main points resonated with my experience and observations. In the paragraphs below I'll interact with five of their points. The numbering of the points refers to the order in which they are presented in the original article.

3. Expertise is based on knowledge and how it is organized.

This principle has certainly shown itself in my own experience. To the extent that I've succeeded in my development as a leader, it has been through progressive assimilation of new knowledge. On the other hand, my defects as a leader represent areas where I've so far failed to latch onto needed sources of knowledge. There's an old adage that says "leaders are readers," and that surely represents my view. Over the course of many years, the leaders who have commanded my respect have been people who were actively learning at the time, regardless of how much they had learned in the past.

6. Other people matter in becoming an expert.

More than once I've heard it said that the course of our lives will be determined by the books we read and the people with whom we associate. Point 3 covered the matter of reading books, while point 6 addresses our interpersonal connections.

Once again, I can identify with McCall and Hollenbeck's postulate. I can readily think of leaders who believed in and cultivated me at critical points in my past. I'm truly grateful for their investments. Furthermore, I'm open to establishing future coaching and/or mentoring relationships, whether the expertise being cultivated is my own or someone else's.

4. Expertise requires more than just knowledge.

This principle has to do with the dispositions, energy, and disciplines that an expert leader must exhibit. I wonder if libraries and higher education institutions have something of a blind spot here. Position announcements and search processes seem to place a high premium on educational attainments, sometimes prescribing a level or field that seems unduly high or overly specialized.

5. Expertise requires more than just experience.

Experience is necessary to leadership development, but not just any sort of experience will do. Years or decades of experience do not magically make people competent to assume more responsibility. It must be intentional, intensive, reflective experience. McCall and Hollenbeck persuasively argue that experts, including expert leaders, are those who have tirelessly improved their performance based on insights from all venues of learning--not least experience. I suppose that writing this blog is a mechanism that helps me to solidify my learning--to think more intently about my reading and my experience, and to try to distill lessons that I can apply more readily in the future.

2. Expertise is domain specific.

The authors of the article make it clear that successful leadership in one realm does not typically qualify a person to assume a leadership role in a variety of other realms. Rather, expertise is somehow bound up in the leader's understanding of a specific context, industry, and/or organization, and this will not necessarily transfer to other situations. The authors also emphasize that leadership demands a broad array of knowledge and skills. With this in mind, leaders in academe and libraries may face particularly daunting challenges. Inside understanding of a discipline, profession, or institution may yield important contextual value, but it will likely have to be shed, at least to some extent, in favor of new knowledge and skills, when a leader takes on a new challenge. Ongoing learning is thus an imperative for academic leaders who aspire to expertise.


McCall, M. W., & Hollenbeck, G. P. (2008). Developing the expert leader. People & Strategy, 31, 20-28. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=33476491&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Sanaghan, P., & Jurow, S. (2011). Who will step into your shoes? Business Officer, 44(10), 16–24. Retrieved from http://www.nacubo.org/x11917.xml

Want to learn more about leadership development and related topics?

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