Leadership Development – A Perspective

Guest Contributor Ed Morler

In observing individual and organizational processes, noticeable is how often the importance of leadership development is emphasized but how little of which is actually enacted.  Why is that? 

While both effective managing and leading are needed and when in appropriate balance work to optimize performance, it is important to be clear on their differing functions. Managing is primarily about keeping functional the existing system. Leadership is about effecting change and change is about moving into the unknown and unfamiliar. As such, initially, it creates confusions, doubts and fears generating resistance to it even when obviously needed.

Both require the same foundational competencies to effectively: determine needs, assess relative priorities, communicate and execute. However, leadership demands additional strengths: vision, determination, persistence, and courage to face and lead others into and through the scary unknowns of change. 

 Since few truly understand the dynamics of leadership and most prefer to avoid the challenges inherent to change,  focusing instead on developing abilities to better manage the existing system is usually easier and less threatening. Consequently, the  majority of “leadership” programs, regardless of title, is seldom actually about developing leaders to lead change but rather is about improving efficiencies in managing compliance to directives of the status quo.    

Rewards in all organizations, with rare exception, are based on some form of compliance to the desires/orders of the existing command hierarchy. This is not inherently good or bad. However,  when a person’s sense of security, at any level, is weak, pressures for compliance generate reactions that can, and unfortunately often do, compromise personal integrity – almost always rationalized – with all its costly consequences, individually and organizationally.

When  adherence to compliance demands is perceived to be the survival game, i.e. “I have to go along or I’ll lose my (job/bonus/promotion/etc.), inevitably integrity is lost: forthright communication disappears, responsiveness evaporates, needed change is avoided, crises abound, productivity and morale plunge, and sustainability is jeopardized. 

This dysfunctional fear-based “survival” game, in all its subtle or not so subtle rationalized manifestations, is much more prevalent throughout society than most are willing to acknowledge. For example, commonly heard from those who claim political sophistication is, “I choose my battles”. In a world of limited resources, sometimes this is valid and appropriate, but how often is it just an excuse for not taking what they know is the responsible action?

Valuable and needed as good managing and appropriate compliance certainly are, they cannot be  substitutes for the maturity of integrity-based leadership. Before we can determine what actually needs changing, it is vital that we be clear on what is occurring, what we are actually developing and why. Too often, that is not the case.

So, if you are responsible for or involved in “leadership development” programs, take a close look, beyond the rhetoric and clichés, at what is actually supported and, in fact, delivered. Doing so can provide valuable data as to the organization’s actual level of security/maturity and therefore its real intentions and potential. The Leadership Integrity Challenge: Assessing and Facilitating Emotional Maturity can be a valuable aid in that evaluation – a critical first step in understanding and developing genuinely responsible leadership as well as good managerial skills – in appropriate balance, of course.

I wish you the best.

Ed Morler

Dr. Morler is the C.E.O. of Morler International, Inc., an international management training and consulting firm specializing in interpersonal and organizational effectiveness. Dr. Morler specializes in communication, presentation, and negotiation skills training as well as executive coaching, and custom design of integrated programs dealing with organizational change and revitalization.


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