Monday, February 20, 2012

Leadership Development - What's New is Really Old...


Leadership development is fact...vital to our organizations ability to be successful. For those reasons we spend a lot of resources in money (Upwards of $10B annually), people and time in developing the current and future generations of leaders to fuel business strategies. If you have been involved in leadership development either as the leader and/or provider you have had the occasion to participate in what are considered some of the cutting edge leadership development techniques available to organizations to include:

Job Rotations
High Potential Programs
Management Training Programs
Management and Functional Leadership Tracks
Peer Assessments
Executive Candidate Assessment
Action Learning
Execution Education Programs
Running Line Organization

There's only one problem...these aren't cutting edge. Sure maybe they are for you and your organization, but truth be told, all of these leadership development techniques have been around since the start of World War I.

In a piece from Wharton School Professor Peter Cappelli titled "What's Old is New Again: Managerial Talent in a Historical Context," Cappelli looked at the leadership development methods in context of evolving business needs and how our approach was much more complex pre-"lifetime employment" to today's approached. Specifically Cappelli states the following at the outset of the paper:

"We often think of the ‘‘traditional’’ process of management development in the United States as one that produced organization specific competencies, lifetime employment, and what has been described as a psychological/ social contract exchanging security (by the employer) for loyalty (from the employee). In fact this traditional model is a relatively recent, post-World War II development. By the end of the 20th century, most aspects of that model have been scaled back and some have been abandoned. What remains of the planning and development functions pales in comparison to the much more sophisticated models in place in the 1950s."

Some examples of where leadership development methods have evolved from include the following:

- Peer assessments started in the U.S. Navy during World War II
- Forced ranking systems started in the U.S. Army during World War II
- Executive Education like Harvard's Advanced Management program started in the 1940's.

This paragraph indicated that similar leadership development activities had been occurring for the last 50 years...

"The advice the authors of the Harvard Business Review study offered companies for developing their executives draws on the programs at companies like GE and seems remarkably similar to what is offered now 50 years later: rotational assignments, a mix of staff and line experiences, an opportunity to run an operation, attendance in advanced management programs, and psychological counseling or coaching (Janney, 1952)."

Now...there is no reason to throw all of this great work out and start over, but there is a realization that in the VUCA (volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world that leader's development may need to shift from focusing on the individual leader...

That folks is the topic for my next blog...


J. Keith Dunbar is a Global Talent Management Leader...Creator of Talent, Leadership Capability, and Culture Change...He can be found connecting and sharing knowledge on Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Twitter: JKeithDunbar
LinkedIn: J. Keith Dunbar
Google+: J. Keith Dunbar
Blog: DNA of Human Capital

The opinions or views expressed here are mine alone and do not represent the views of the SAIC.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Keith,

    I am reminded of another Keith...Richards in this case, who is reputed to have said that there are but five riffs in rock n roll, and what bands and songwriters do are just variations of those themes.

  3. Diane and David...

    Thanks so much for your comments. I really like the comment from Keith Richards...very good perspective and relavent to this discussion.


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