05 October 2010

You can't microwave leaders, but companies are most certainly overcooking them

I read somewhere the phrase "you can't microwave leaders", the context was about companies' leadership development programs - a.k.a. a bunch of trainings and assignments to form company leaders. I agree, you can't microwave leaders, but I want to challenge that it takes "time" to build a leader.

It doesn't take "time" to build leaders. It takes "experience".

How so? Ok, here you go: how many times have you seen senior leaders, people who are in the company for 10, 20, 30 years, that cannot run a meeting? That doesn't know the basics about delegation? Team management? Coaching? I am not sure what you answered, but for sure I have seen more than it would be possible to believe it is by chance. So the only way I can see it is that it happens by design. Fear of change design. Risk aversion design. Control and command design. Lack of feedback design.

How come AIESEC can develop great leaders in 2-5 years and a company can't do it in 10? Is it
just me or there is something fundamentally wrong with that?

The answer is simple: experience. AIESEC has very little fear of failure (or has a lot of hope in individuals, who knows?) and there is a lot of room for trying and taking responsibility. Would you give the CEO role of a organization with 50.000 employees, present in 100 countries, founded in 1948 to someone with around 6 years experience in the organization (which also means 6 years of experience in any sort of job)? Well, AIESEC does, every single year. Yes, it changes it's CEO (and all the other thousands of leadership roles) annually. You learn, you move on - individuals and organization grow.

If you are in a company and you are in charge of the leadership development, all I ask you is to TRY to change this mindset. Don't think about leadership development as time bound, but experience bound. Experience takes time, of course, but time in itself doesn't build leaders. If you don't give your people the experience, they won't develop the skills.

Give people responsibility and freedom, they will surprise you positively around 80% of the time.

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