Leadership Development: an Act of Faith?

an Act of FaithThe final theme explores four interrelated issues. The first examines whether leadership development can be measured or whether it is simply best understood as an act of faith. The second theme explores the essential need to contextualize any form of intervention if any progress is to go beyond the act of faith.

The third distinguishes between training and reflection, building on the assertion within this article that naturalistic learning predominates in generating complex situated practice, and perhaps reflection on individual practice is preferable to training solutions. The final theme returns full circle to the born-versus-made-debate. Can transformational leadership be taught or is it a ‘gift from god’.

The research base of both informal and formal leadership development has been deleteriously affected by the historic conflation of management and leadership. Only a few commentators – notably Messrs Day (2000), Barker (2001), Burgoyne et al. (2004) and Conger (2004) – argue the case for greater differentiation and understanding of the process by which managers learn how to lead, as distinct from how managers learn how to manage. Their arguments build from Baldwin and Wexley who, in 1986, had identified,

several fundamental concerns regarding research and practice … The body of literature is descriptive, anecdotal, non-empirical and faddish often emerging as lists of requirements; traditional formal development follows particular theories resulting in a narrow focus to a broad concept which arguably results in simplistic interventions.

(1986: 286)

These concerns remain relevant today as leadership learning and development is, for the most part, an act of faith (Burgoyne, 2001). Programs developed out of the practice of one organizational context are assumed to be general sable across the leadership and management development industry without empirical evidence (argued by Burgoyne et al., 2004; repeating earlier concerns of Freedman & Stumpf, 1982; Hoffman, 1985; Huber, 1985).

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