The Mistaken Perspective In Leadership Development

In my blog post, The Leadership Lens, I realized ,after the fact, that I had failed to provide any meaningful closing which would have enabled the reader to see the dots which I had connected. It is my dangling and I hope that you will look at this post with a fresh set of eyes.

The White Paper I referenced, by Nick Petrie, Trends in Leadership Development, was from what I can tell, pretty representative of the high quality work that is done at the Center for Creative Leadership. What I missed upon reading it was a visceral reaction that later when processed checked out to be incredibly valuable on a number of levels,;including synthesizing the fact that I wish to be known in for-profit circles as the, “non-profit guy who taught them leadership” and it re-ignited a little resentment (I had pushed down somewhere deep), I had held with respect to the artificial class construction between managers and leaders in the non-profit sector as compared to those managers and leaders from the for-profit sector. While my curiosity is going into overdrive to get to the why did it start, when did  change, was the divide always there, etc…none of those things are really relevant. What is relevant is where and how do we go from here?

Two days after I read Mr. Petrie’s paper, I came across a May/June 2010, Ivy Business Journal article written by Jean Crawford entitled, Profiling the Non-Profit Leader of Tomorrow (.…/profiling-the-non-profit-leader-of-tomorrow). In the article she provides 15 “must have attributes”, which mirror the skill set described for leader of tomorrow’s for-profit organizations. Personally, I believe this skill set isn’t really innovative-these are the characteristic of leaders, period. It can be argued in fact that all of the skills/traits/attributes discussed in each article could be categorized within each of the 8 characteristics of principle centered leaders as described by the late Dr.Stephen Covey. Whether or not, individual leaders possessed or demonstrated this standard is an entirely different matter.  Additionally, variances within context and circumstances impact which of the identified traits the leader would use; however, my contention is that regardless of sector all leaders have these skill sets as their baseline.

Since “cutting my teeth” at an AIDS service organization at the heights of the AIDS crisis until this day, I have been convinced that we have missed untold opportunities to solve so many of our problems as a result of the divide between these two sectors. Imagine if you will, a world where leaders from both sectors create teams which collaborate to address social, medical , and technological problems. That through these collaborative exercises synergistic solutions come about for all parties-a true win-win scenario. I myself can see changes in health care, cures to illness, a significant change in chronic homelessness. Not to mention to ripple affect throughout each of those communities, through the nation and the world. All while each of the sectors are exceeding the expectations in carrying out their missions.

One of the duties of thought leaders, including academics, experts, and gurus is that we be change agents. What I have observed in recent years however, is an unhealthy amount of conformism, self-promotion over service, and the use of exclusive, decisive language, again for self-promotion. I have nothing against marketing, in fact, I love it. What is troubling, and this is relevant, is that we now have a saturation of self-proclaimed experts, whose primary mission is personal branding and not developing leaders. As a result their drive is to find the next hook, to sell some product at the expense of authentically guiding the development of those under their care.  This of course isn’t reflective of everyone in the field; however if I, as a leader of leaders, place a higher value on securing my future at the expense of doing the right thing as a change agent, I am complicit in the problem. That is not leadership.

In a 2006, Stanford Social Innovation Review article entitled, What Business Execs Don’t Know-But Should-About Non Profits, the authors described in great detail, how, coming together and learning from one another, the social sector could be improved.  It also confirms what we have learned from the Center for Creative Leadership and the Ivy Business Journal articles is that the complexities that leaders in each sector face are very demanding. (…/what_business_execs_dont_know_but_should_about_nonprofits)

So where do we go from here? First thing we can do is to take down that artificial wall that divides the sectors into two separate classes. Then as thought leaders, experts, academics, and gurus become more mindful of using inclusive language we can begin to change the landscape. What that will look like will require a whole lot more people than me to even attempt a proposal. We have sacrificed too much in the way of creativity, innovation, and relationships for way too long, for us not to stand up and lead.

Together, there isn’t anything that we can’t accomplish!


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