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What is leadership development really about?

Since we are in the business of leadership development, we get asked a lot about what it really is all about. It won’t surprise you that the answer matters to us and we’d like to take some time to explore with you our perspective via a series of blogs. We are so invested in this topic we’ve even developed our own leadership model which frames an understanding and a conversation around the type of leadership we feel is needed in the world. 

The people we work with are all in leadership positions, run teams and are absolutely great at executing tasks and doing their jobs. However, this doesn’t mean they are leaders… yet. Think about great leaders you have had the opportunity to work for. Take it up a notch – think of the truly inspiring leaders and name the qualities that made them great. The list is likely to include words like passion, vision, courage, integrity, humility, wisdom, risk-taking and authentic. 

The list will likely not have included ‘competent’. Being good at what you do is table stakes. Being competent gets you the job and has no relation to you being an inspiring leader capable of getting the best of the collective energy of your team. Being able to lead through periods of volatility, uncertainty and change needs something far greater than just competence. 

What is leadership about? Strategy, action, results – of course. But that is only half of it. Leadership is also about authenticity, relationships, team collaboration and self-awareness. We believe this is the most overlooked side of leadership by far. We are so focused on the doing that we forget the being.

Accepted wisdom is that it takes anything from a few hours to a few weeks to copy price, three months to copy marketing and technology and six years to replicate a culture. Arguably then culture is THE only competitive advantage that we can truly have. And who creates the culture? You got it, the leaders.

Let’s be very clear that leadership effectiveness matters. Research from Zenger & Folkman and Anderson & Adams show that leadership effectiveness is a primary contributor to business performance. Anderson and Adams show a clear link between businesses performing in the top quartile and high scores of the effectives of their leaders. 

And yet most leadership development programs focus on capabilities or the doing. Also known as the outer game, these programs underline the importance of the science of leadership, management processes and competency research. This is important but not sufficient to develop great leaders. 

What is largely left ignored is the inner game. The inner game is made up of our values and beliefs, our self-awareness, how we make meaning of the world, how we make decisions, and our internal assumptions about who we are and how the world operates. 

Countless times, we’ve been asked by senior people for tips and tricks to sort out a challenge they face. Tips and tricks work for the outer game. They have zero impact on the inner game. 

We can assume that the outer game of competencies is the only game. But this is the tip of the iceberg. Without work on the inner game, little change will happen in the outer game. The maturity of the inner game impacts the outer game. 

During our programs we take participants on a deep and profound experiential journey of self discovery. Carefully crafted exercises are designed to push participants out of their comfort zone, think differently, notice where they fall into the ‘performance trap’, improve their self-awareness and create genuine and meaningful relationships, so they can take this all back to their real lives.

The hardest part of our courses for 99% of participants is understanding why leadership is so much about self-awareness. It is not an intellectual process they have to go through; it is an emotional journey. And only through experiencing this journey do they truly understand the power of themselves and how that is KEY to transforming their leadership.

Our participants leave our programs a little more themselves than they showed up; more self-aware, more relaxed, full to the top with love for themselves and others, stretched, a little bruised, kinder, less judgemental, open, believing in themselves, compassionate and often looking and feeling lighter.

For us, this is what leadership development is really about. 

Over the next month we will be introducing the foundations of our model and how we see it applying in the real world of leadership. We would love this to be a start of a conversation with you so please email, comment and get in touch. We hope you enjoy discovering more about yourself and your perspectives on leadership over the following weeks.


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