When developing a person into a leader, it’s important to keep in mind that leadership development is a process that spans a person’s entire life, from early in childhood into late adulthood. Research shows that different elements should ideally be developed at different stages of one’s life. These skills, attitudes and competencies are interrelated, with each affecting the others. Everyone can learn and grow into an effective leader, if he or she is given the right experiences.
To develop a person into a leader, it is not enough to look only at soft skills and technical capabilities. We must also pay attention to elements usually left to parents and the individual, such as character formation, agency and competitiveness, self-awareness, the management of key life events (called “crucible moments”) and their impact, the thought that goes into how and what kind of legacy the individual would like to leave behind, and how to transfer all the knowledge he or she has acquired over time. The chart below provides a snapshot of the various components at each stage of leadership development.
With the understanding that leadership is developed slowly over the years, we can create a development plan that journeys with an individual from a young age to late adulthood. This approach is by no means linear; people can join at any given time. The important part is to assess what they lack so far and determine how they can compensate, or develop a certain element at a different stage of their life. In training, this means having the tools to accurately identify where a person is and what kind of interventions he or she needs immediately, in the mid-term and in the long term to improve his or her leadership capabilities and effectiveness.
If, for example, a 30-year-old mid-level manager is participating in leadership development, but there is an indication that she has not developed her agency and intellectual character and has not learned to make the most of her crucible moments, you will need to determine how to incorporate those elements into an intervention to enable her to grow as a leader.
Designing an intervention based on information about an individual’s current state and capabilities allows it to be more powerful and impactful than basing it only on specific capability gaps. It means the L&D team must look beyond the needs of the company in terms of skills to assess in detail the employee’s journey so far. It also means determining how to fill gaps beyond competencies, developing people holistically.
True, this approach is not easy, and it will take longer to achieve, but it will definitely worth the trouble. We believe this model is a good basis for all training professionals, from teachers of children to executive coaches, to create personalized leadership development interventions that accelerate individuals into great leaders.