Transforming Leadership Development

How Do We Grow The Growers?

Think of one person you’re working to develop as a leader. Remember the first time you met them, saw their potential more clearly than they could. How much time, energy, and resources have you devoted to this person’s growth this last year? Investing in their needs ensuring they thrive in their practice of leadership. Getting the familiar rush of watching the knowledge and tools you’re providing create the foundation they’ll turn into skills that transform themselves, the people they engage with, and the systems to which they contribute. Great feeling right? The sense of purpose, connection and impact. It’s the high of leadership development. The caffeine for the long hours, hard conversations, and sleepless nights agonizing over the lessons waiting to be taught. Now, how much time, energy, and resources have you and others devoted to your development this last year? What’s needed to realize new levels of success as a leader as well as a leadership developer?

Many working in the field of leadership development today focus their efforts on providing time and resources to influence the behaviors, literacies, and competencies of future leaders. But what about the growth of those doing the developing? Leadership educators, coaches, mentors, gurus, and researchers in the field of leadership are expected, perhaps obligated, to develop self, but that self development is shrouded in silence. We tend not to talk or ask about the next phase of growth for those already doing the work of developing leadership in others. No one seems to ask Yoda what he’s doing for his own development.

Jay Conger stated “Most would agree that to seriously train individuals in the arts of leadership takes enormous time and resources – perhaps more than societies or organizations possess, and certainly more than they are willing to expend” (Conger, 1992, pp. 38–39).  If we seek to become ‘master’ leadership educators or developers we need to take more time to ‘seriously [and continuously] train individuals providing education in the arts of leadership. Learning for this type of deep work requires more than technical competency provided by seminars or continuing education credits.  This kind of growth requires continuous experimentation and adaptation along with the critical feedback and support from others.  Leicester and O’Hara describe three essential conditions needed to bring about kinds of learning needed for the 21st century: “you cannot learn without action, gaining direct experience –   you cannot learn without reflection, the capacity to perform the double task (mentors can help) – and you cannot learn alone” (O’Hara & Leicester, 2012). This means we must never cease to practice both leadership and leadership development. It also means that we need to be able to “double task” or reflect on our actions even whilst in the midst of them (O’Hara & Leicester, 2012). This practice has also been called alternating between the “balcony and the dance floor” (Heifetz & Linsky, 2002). Finally, it means that we need to process our experiences and reflections with supportive mentors to reinforce the learning.

To invest in others is noble, worthy, and often in our job descriptions. To do the same for ourselves is a luxury often saved  for ‘later’ after the tasks, conversations, and service to others is complete. Done in stolen, silent moments, between commitments, and without a support system. Development of self started, but chronically pushed off for ‘later’, ‘after one more email’ or ‘next week when things slow down’.

Our concern is later never comes or, if it does, it comes too late.


Header image CC BY 2015, Jaime González,


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