Traditional leadership development efforts today are failing.
In a study by Harvard only 33 percent of respondents said they became more effective as managers after taking part in development programs.
There are many reasons for this. One big problem is the focus on skill acquisition.
When you acquire skills, you will become a better leader.
For example, developing listening and questioning skills.
There are two flawed assumptions behind this approach.
- It assumes there is a single best skill to acquire. The leadership "best practice". With compliance measured by L&D departments.
- It assumes a knowledge gap. That once you have the knowledge your performance will improve.
Whilst acquiring skills is part of a leaders development, it is only one piece of the puzzle.
“Learning is about attending to things, rather than acquiring the knowledge that absolves us of the need to do so...”
– Tim Ingold
Skill Adaptation vs Skill Acquisition
Leaders operate in highly volatile, uncertain and complex environments.
You are leading humans not machines.
No one-to-one is ever the same. What works for one person might not work for someone else.
Skill adaptation focuses on how well you apply skills in relation to the environment.
A skillful leader applies a skill based upon the situation.
This might mean not following the rule book.
They are highly aware of the environment at a given moment.
For example, imagine a team member brings a difficult challenge to you.
Leaders who focus on skill acquisition might think - What is the "best practice" here? "I must not give advice"
Leaders who focus on skill adaptation might think - What is best approach given this unique situation?
You can only answer that second question effectively, if you are aware of what's going on in the environment. For your team member, yourself and the wider context.
So don't forget, when developing skills, to build your situational awareness.
Ask this question often: What is uniquely going on in this moment?
These thoughts are inspired by How We Learn To Move by Rob Gary