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Taking Action

Developmental learning is the action an individual must take; developmental work is what the people of the organization do to achieve positive results from learning. In the previous example, one aspect of learning to be a safe person was developmental learning as an individual – that is, learning how to work without injuring yourself or contributing to an injury to others. Leadership work, by contrast, is done by all the people in the organization to change things so that fewer injuries occur.

Developmental Learning

Developmental learning starts with an individual aspiring leader – that is, with someone who is highly motivated to improve her individual capabilities as a person and as a leader. The motivation to learn – to develop oneself – is arguably the single most important attribute for an aspiring leader and is something that all successful leaders possess.

Some people contend that leaders are born – that at least some leadership qualities are an accident of birth. Undoubtedly, some people are born with some traits that help make them leaders – more and more observers believe that such traits can be innate. But even those who are so fortunate still have to develop those innate qualities by committing themselves to learning.

Charisma will sometimes “get you in the door,” but even then, it is the leadership competencies you learn that will “keep you inside,” where the real work of leading is done. It has often been contended that a leader must be an extrovert. That view is less widely held than it used to be – there are plenty of introverts these days in the executive suites of successful irms.

So the answer to the question “Are there born leaders?” is “Yes, but …” And the answer to the question “Can leadership be learned?” is “Yes, absolutely …” And more relevant than either of these answers is this point: the very best leaders develop themselves through continuous learning. Indeed, people who are not innately capable of positively inluencing people can learn the skills and character attributes that can provide them with that capability. Similarly, naturally charismatic people who can easily inluence
the actions of others do not become exceptional leaders unless they are willing to lead with less reliance on personality, and that takes learning.

Learning to lead is a developmental process. It is not about taking a course, reading a book, or subscribing to various business journals. All of those can help, but they must be combined with thinking, experiencing, practising, behaving in certain ways, and any number of processes that reinforce leadership.

So, learning to be a better leader principally involves combining selflearning with a disciplined approach to gaining experience. That discipline requires you to approach your task of learning to lead by asking the three basic questions this book has put forward: Why do you want to be a better leader? How are you to go about becoming one? And what do you need to do to become one?

Developmental learning is not the same as training. It is not learning by recipes or rules or procedures. Developing competence requires active learning so that you become capable of improving the ways you accomplish tasks. Developmental learning is also continuous: you set goals, work to achieve them, and then having done so you set new goals, always reaching for new challenges, new ideas, and superordinate targets.

Part two of this book will describe in detail the speciic actions you need to take to become a developmental role model leader of self.

Developmental Work

Learning to be a developmental, competent leader of self takes work. It is a personal challenge. And it requires the individual to decide which valueadd efforts need to be taken on. Much the same can be said of an organization or team: it needs to be motivated to do developmental work, and it is leaders who generate that motivation, having irst learned how to motivate themselves.

During a visit to a DuPont Canada manufacturing plant, I participated in a discussion of the success that this very good manufacturing facility had achieved. In the course of the presentations, a young and inexperienced employee told the room, “If it isn't broken, don't ix it.” He was expecting all of us to laugh and express their agreement. But others at the meeting who knew me well (he did not, yet), looked at me and waited. They did not have to wait long. I said to him, “If it isn't broken, ix it anyway.” We went on to have a productive discussion on how to improve an already solid manufacturing process. The meeting concluded with several ideas from him and others that everyone agreed we could test during the next
maintenance shutdown. Those were implemented and ultimately increased our production.

Anything can be improved, and anything can be changed for the better. Strong leaders inspire others to act on those two simple concepts: always seek improvement, carry it out, and seek more.

When you develop yourself into a competent leader of self, leading others lows naturally from that. All the work you have had to do to develop your self-leadership skills will ind its way naturally into the organization you lead, which is another way of saying that self-leading is a necessary precursor to leading a business organization. You are leading an organization well when you inspire the other people in your organization to become leaders of self. Indeed, high performance depends on it.

Competent leadership of self can be an end in itself: quite simply, it makes you a better person, a better citizen, and a more competent human being. Plenty of people have little interest in leading others in organizations. There is no reason why they should have to want this – perhaps they only want to be better engineers, better doctors, or better researchers. Certainly, there are many valuable roles that do not focus on leading people in complex organizations. All of us would beneit from learning self-leadership whether or not we extend that new competence beyond ourselves to leading teams or organizations. Learning that competence is justiied on the basis of service, to ourselves and to others.

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