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Developing The 3-Dimensional Leader

Too many leaders today are one-dimensional, narrowly focused on business results. Today’s complex business challenges require the full development and expression of a leader’s capabilities; we need three-dimensional leaders!

“Wanted: Corporate executive to lead Global 500 company. Must be visionary, authentic, courageous and a well-balanced global citizen. Workaholics need not apply.”

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The response to such an ad running in any major newspaper would probably be overwhelming. However, at a time when a chronic shortage of leadership talent is identified by senior executives as one of the top factors contributing to the increasing complexity of business, and is often identified as a major impediment to achieving their growth strategies, few, if any, of the applicants would meet the requirements.

A Leadership Development Crisis

I believe that this leadership crisis is in reality a leadership development crisis. While it’s true that leadership development has become a corporate priority, the development systems of most organizations are outdated and tend to create and reward leaders who are one-dimensional. At a time when the challenges facing leaders and their organizations have never been more complex or daunting, it’s clear that we need fully developed leaders.

The following are what I believe to be the two major factors that have led to this crisis:

First, the traditional methods used to train and educate leaders have not kept pace with the monumental changes taking place in the world. Potential leaders receive essentially the same education as did their predecessors — education that was appropriate to the demands of a different era. The primary focus in too many universities and corporations is still on how business skills will produce leaders who have strong functional, technical and financial capabilities. When leadership development is provided, it is often treated in separate programs as if it were an isolated issue apart from the business challenges leaders face. And issues dealing with personal effectiveness are still frequently seen as too “touchy feely” and not dealt with at all.

Second, on-the-job experiences and development frequently do not produce the leadership our organizations need. Many argue that 70% of learning takes place on the job but what is it that our leaders are learning? Most develop a narrow functional-technical perspective as a result of spending their entire career in one area. Many are risk-averse due to the severe consequences of making mistakes, which severely inhibits learning. Few have any work experience out of their home country (that’s getting to be a big problem given the global economy and competition). Too many neglect family and friends to meet the demands of the job, and a system that frequently encourages and rewards workaholism.

These experiences historically foster management rather than leadership skills. When they are placed in leadership positions, their style is often traditional and authoritarian, which is demonstrated by their need to over-manage, to be seen as the “expert,” to solve all problems, make all decisions, and maintain control. Capable of managing but unfit to lead is a fitting description of these executives.

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That the training and job development system produces capable managers is undisputed. But we are now in the midst of a world in which even the best are ineffective unless they can also lead.

Three-Dimensional Leadership: The New Imperative

In place of a system that has tended to produce one-dimensional managers, I propose a more holistic, three-dimensional leadership development framework, a comprehensive process that recognizes that leaders need capabilities that are significantly different from the past.

The three-dimensional framework calls for the development of an individual’s business, leadership, and personal effectiveness skills:

  • Business Dimension: Mind-sets and capabilities needed to identify and address critical business challenges
  • Leadership Dimension: Fully developed leadership capacity needed to lead the organization confidently into the future
  • Personal Dimension: Personal effectiveness skills needed to achieve excellence, balance and ongoing renewal

The three-dimensional framework does not diminish the importance of the business dimension — the focus of traditional executive development. Instead, it strengthens the leadership and personal dimensions to balance and integrate all three areas. Each is an equally essential element of the leadership equation. It is not enough to be a consummate business expert; an executive must also be an excellent leader, while at the same time possessing exceptional personal effectiveness skills.

Developing Three-Dimensional Leaders

The business dimension is developed by providing executives with the capabilities needed to identify and address critical business challenges. Therefore, development efforts might be focused on such things as creating new organizations, building market-focused and customer-focused organizations, leading change, winning in the global marketplace, creating a learning organization, fostering innovation, and leveraging technology.

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The leadership dimension might concentrate on a study of a broad range of classical and contemporary theories and skills so that leaders can develop their own personal expression of leadership. Based on integrity and authenticity, leadership is a combination of both competence and character.

Attention to the personal dimension has suffered most because of the mistaken view that business and personal matters can and should be separated, and because corporate cultures often reward individuals who are consumed with business. Based on the belief that individuals cannot be effective leaders if they are ineffectual in their personal lives, executives need to learn skills such as clarifying individual purpose, vision, values and talents on the one hand, and effectively integrating work, personal goals and priorities on the other.

Look to the Horizon

Organizational survival and success, it is clear, are directly linked to our willingness to cultivate leaders. And now it has become evident that true leaders develop all facets of their potential in order to lead, not just the narrow few needed to manage.

The three-dimensional framework recognizes that most people use only a fraction of their potential to lead and that the challenges faced by our organizations require the full development and expression of a wide range of leadership capabilities. Organizations can use this framework to examine their development systems to see if they have balanced and integrated all three dimensions. Individuals can use the framework to be sure they are getting the training and experiences needed to ensure they are becoming the kind of leaders they wish to be.