Leadership is not a competitive sport.

What do you do when you realize your leadership program missed people. I’ve seen any number of leadership programs. Some pick people already practicing to groom them for greater things. Others take people right out of college and help them learn.

Of the two I think there are huge risks in the first and much more to gain in the second. The first one you have to undo bad habits and frankly bad reputations. People with baggage that were selected and once having completed that event were suddenly VIPs. I knew a lot of people that were very frustrated by who got picked for the various after market leadership programs. It was often the managers favorites that were selected and in the end it really upset a lot of people. People that ended up leaving the organization because of the frustration.

With the right out of college leadership program you can help people start their careers off right and see if in fact the skills you are looking for are there. Logically and frankly having worked with both types of groups, it is the most effective model. The value is that everyone knows its there and everyone knows you start your first year college hires in that program so there is in the end no resentment.

The question I have about these programs is in the end can you build leaders? There are a number of skills that come with the person that don’t lead down the leadership path. Over the years I have also come to realize there are a number of types of leaders that exist. Schools teach to the state test (at least in the US).That isn’t the goal of most educators it is in fact the legal reality (kids can’t graduate if they don’t pass the test). I feel like leadership programs at times have the same problem.

Many years ago my boss selected someone for a leadership program from our team. He was grooming that person as a leader. But they weren’t a leader in the group. In fact most of the group ignored that person. So effectively my boss failed this young leader. Some of the more senior folks on the team could have easily helped him, but the young man was a graduate of the leadership program and we were not. He was smarter than us and didn’t mind telling us that. Knowing the person in question I expected no less. Sadly a number of the graduates of that program came out of the program with the special arrogance that comes from being told you are the best. The best aren’t just made and if you forget that your leadership program will fail.

Be careful in the end what you ask for. You may get exactly what you ask for. On the other hand I worked with a number young folks that were just starting out their careers. The leadership programs they were put in had a number of really good methods. The first was that the young leaders were moved around the business so that they had an opportunity to learn. The first program was geared to those folks right out of college. Then later in their career they were placed in the more advanced leadership program to reinforce what they knew. This second program in the end is far more expensive than the first. But you run less of the risks of the first in the second.

Partially this may be because it was two different companies. Partially it may be because the first program didn’t teach the most important skill leaders have, compassion. It just being in charge it is in the end an understanding of failure. I talked yesterday about the impact of failure on innovators. The impact of failure rests on the shoulders of the leaders. If you make failure a big deal (which by the way IS THE FREAKING OUTCOME OF A COMPETITIVE LEADERHIP PROGRAM) you will kill ideas. Failure is as I’ve now said for the past three days simply finding another way not to solve the problem. The best leaders I’ve ever worked for didn’t chide me for my failures (I’ve had a few) instead they simply asked is there another way to solve the problem.

Leadership isn’t a competitive sport.


Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow?