Leadership Development is Essentially Personal Development

Years ago, before I serendipitously bumbled into the field of leadership and organizational development in the mid-80s, my wife and I ran an outdoor adventure leadership school for young men.  This was fashioned after Outward Bound and included robust adventure-based stretch activities such as rock-climbing, white-water canoeing, mountain backpacking, obstacle courses and the like.  The school was (still is) called Educo Adventure School which as you Latin scholars know, means to “draw forth”.  It is the root word and should be the premise for our approach to education today … although the reality is far from that – a topic for another blog perhaps.  The real impact of this adventure-based approach to developing leadership comes from putting people in a stretch zone of manageable discomfort and largely perceived risk. These young men were required to access inner capabilities while changing their debilitating self-talk telling them why they couldn’t do something, all in an environment of supporting teammates going through the same experience.  In essence they were forced to rapidly become acquainted with both the latent courage and strength as well as the frailties within evoked by the presenting challenge and stress.  This was deeply personal work for these young men. 

Fast forward about 30 years and here I am an executive leadership consultant and coach essentially doing the same thing, only with some added experience and tools, and in a corporate context versus rushing water, rock faces and dense bush – all apt metaphors for executive corporate life mind you.  Isn’t leadership development essentially the self-awareness of personal strengths and vulnerabilities and the increasing mastery of managing our behavioural choices in that context?  And if leadership development is essentially deeply personal, then it needs to include a consideration of personal purpose, values and vision.  Why do I lead? Why would/should people follow me? What do I want to accomplish?  What do I want my leadership legacy to be? What do I stand for?  What do I want my leadership to look like in the future?  Answers to these questions define meaning for ourselves and ultimately impacts those who follow us.  I don’t think we can honestly declare we are in the game of leadership development until we embrace these questions, albeit among others, in our reflection. The answers will be as unique as our fingerprints and ultimately define our personal leadership brand.  When articulated such answers are what give others something to follow.

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