Leaders are developed too

by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, September 28, 2011, at 3:41 pm

Many are familiar with the old adage: "Leaders are born, not made." I am beginning to doubt the accuracy of this statement. While it's true that many leadership skills are God-given gifts, it is also true that natural-born leaders need to have their skills developed by others.

A few years ago, James Dobson said we are facing a leadership void. I agree that is partly true, but the void is actually his generation's fault. We have several "Pauls" but very few "Timothys." When I was in seminary, a group of us fervently prayed for mentors, hoping we would have someone to show us the way. After a few years we faced the hard reality that, for the most part, baby boomers are not really into mentoring and leadership coaching. We realized we were on our own.

As many boomers transition out of leadership positions with some of the nation's largest churches and religious organizations, many are finding there is no next president/CEO or senior-level leader in the pipeline. In the October issue of The Harvard Business Review, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, Boris Groysberg, and Nitin Nohria offer great ideas for organizations on how to create a leadership pipeline. They note that "promising managers are attracted to companies known for strong development opportunities, and a well-managed talent pipeline dramatically increases the odds that a company will appoint great leaders at the top." That is, if organizations want to keep and attract talented people it is important to make a verbal, programmatic commitment to develop emerging leaders into great leaders. Being committed to talent management is key to maintaining institutional growth and longevity.

One important finding of the author's research was that the effective management of the next generation of leaders always encompasses three sets of activities:

"The first involves the establishment of clear strategic priorities, which shape the way companies groom high-potential leaders. The second involves the careful selection of high-potential candidates-and communicating who they are to others in the organization. This can be touchy. And the third comprises the management of talent itself-how high potentials are developed, rewarded, and retained."

For several years I have been consulting Christian organizations, encouraging them to grow their own leaders instead of trying to find some leader "out there." The risk, time, and investment to adopt this approach will be worth it in the long-term. When looking for someone with leadership "potential," as the authors note, managers should look for a person who demonstrates the "ability to grow and to handle responsibilities of greater and scale and scope." The authors note that this is that type of person who can do four things well: (1) manage a vast range of information, (2) is good at leading and encouraging others, (3) demonstrates resolve and consistency in meeting goals, and (4) is eager for new experiences, ideas, and knowledge, and seeks constructive feedback. This is the type of person organizations should do whatever is necessary to retain.

In recent years, I have known several friends who quit their jobs and moved on to other organizations because they had demonstrated leadership potential but their managers had no idea how to develop them. Whenever I serve on the board of directors for an organization I look for evidence of internal leadership development opportunities and on-going succession planning for senior leadership, because organizations that do not invest in developing leaders will have none in the long-term. I do this because I don't think we simply have a leadership void these days but a leadership development vacuum that will sadly result in the folding of several organizations as key leaders approach retirement. If you want leaders invest in them.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

Read more from this writer