Self Directed Leadership Development


The topic of leadership is like love; it defies definition in any organized manner. The same is the emerging view regarding leadership development as even those organizations, which profess to do it well, acknowledge that there are issues that impact success.


A state of the art Leadership Development Process is a stated goal of most CEO’s.  Like many aspirations the “process” becomes dysfunctional despite the best of intentions of senior managers and the Human Resources function.   The principal contributing factors to this are as follows:

·        A lack of visible CEO and top manager commitment

·        The process devolves into initiatives in search of a context

·        A lack of clarity regarding the strategy, linkages among programs, and benefits to managers

·        Cost drivers frequently put process elements “on hold”

·        The program does not achieve the desired performance nor retention objectives


Based upon the above my colleagues and I have begun experimenting with a concept we refer to as Self-Directed Leadership Development.  Although like most consultants, we support the development of competency based development, performance management, and training programs, we have found that sustainable success in many respects relies upon personal initiative.  In fact there is an emerging consensus among our subject matter experts that Leadership Development programs designed around this “personal initiative” assumption have merit in addition to, or in conjunction with, the more organized approaches.


Managers whom want to take more control over their career development do crave guidance as to the areas on which they should focus, and what are the avenues of support that they can expect to receive from their organizations.


As to the former, we have worked with many top managers, both domestically and internationally helping them resolve the question, what will it take to succeed in their organization in the future?


In the context, we have developed a protocol we refer to as the Management Assessment Process (MAP).  Over the years, our experience using Management Assessment Process has allowed us to predict general management competencies that define organizational success.  Our data is based upon over 2,000 interviews of CEO’s and only their direct reports conducted since 1992.  Our data base of companies are derived from North and South America, Western Europe, Asia, and several Eastern European countries.  The range of company size is from start up- through large multi-national.  As well our data includes interviews with senior executives from foreign governmental agencies.


We have organized our findings into four categories Threshold Attributes, Role Driven Skills, External Leadership Attributes, and Influence Management that are presented in the balance of this document. In the creation of a Self Directed Leadership Development Strategy all four must be considered.   To appreciate the linkages the following graph is presented.




Threshold Attributes

We have defined Threshold Attributes as the “common denominator” skills required by all managers as the baseline for determining success.  Our consolidated experience indicates that these attributes must be possessed by all managers in abundance.  A deficiency in any of the core attributes, in our experience, either has to be corrected or we are not confident in predicting success for the incumbent.


Role Driven Skills

Globally successful businesses are made up of a coalition of managers who when acting in concert define their business and the competitive posture of it’s’ place within an industry as a leader or “wanna be”.  To be successful, the incumbent must function as a specialist and think like a general manager.  This balance creates opportunity for the successful and ambiguity for the less successful.


External Leadership Attributes

We have defined Leadership Attributes as those skills that when “rolled up” among all managers, defines the organization’s position in the external marketplace.  These skills define a manager’s ability to promote the organization’s interests through motivation, strategic thinking and knowledge transfer.  The syntheses of these skills frame leadership and the strategic thrust of an organization.


Influence Management

Companies are organic in their internal maturation and evolution of value systems.  The crafting of an organization’s culture, climate and social system, is a consolidation of managerial willingness to identify and push the organization’s “levers” and lack of risk aversion in promoting positive change.  Organizations grow from the inside out.  Managers’ influence skills define the framework that catalyzes the organizations common sense of purpose.


In an effort to provoke thinking, additional detail for each of these four major areas of developmental opportunity are as follows:


Threshold Attributes

Baseline attributes for successful general managers reflect the ability to think strategically while acting globally.  We have identified four common skills among successful managers.  We refer to these core skills as Threshold Attributes in that, without proficiency, in each, manager’s effectiveness is disenfranchised.


Global Orientation

As companies become more multi-national, it is essential that managers have the ability to think in a “big picture” context and realistically assess the implications of their decisions on a multi-national scale.  Parochially focused managers are not traditionally successful, based on our experience.




Problem Solving

This is the ability to solve business related problems creatively.  As well, and we believe more importantly, is the aptitude to anticipate where difficulties are like to arise and be able to address them innovatively before they take on lives of their own. Our data suggests that this is found to be a “gap” as often there is a restrained bias for action, and/or a lack of organizational support for the implementation of “untested” solutions.



Effective manager require the ability to move effortlessly among three vehicles of communication, the ability to persuade one-on-one, in writing and through speeches/presentations.  Expatriate and Internationally oriented managers need at least cultural sensitivity and optimally host country language skills as well.


Finance and Economics

Successful managers, in our experie3nce, have become somewhat expert in the area of Finance, Political Economies, and International Economics.  All managers can read a P&L.  However, we have found that most successful globally oriented managers have a “feel” for the broader international financial world.


Role Driven Skills

In the process of achieving General Manager Status, we have found that successful incumbents have architected a reputation as an “expert” in a specific discipline.  Our experience in numerous industries suggests that there is no one a discipline that is a “stairway to heaven”.  Alternatively, in the recent past, we have found that the more successful managers have been associated as a champion of a critical business process such as Supply Chain or Marketing.


In our work outside of the United States two trends bear mentioning.  First is that CFO’s who had traditionally been considered logical successor candidates are not being perceived as forcefully.  They have been supplanted by Sales and Marketing oriented managers.  Secondly, the successful International managers have become somewhat expert on the strategic use of total rewards despite the regulatory restrictions and inflationary conditions in the host country.


External Leadership Attributes

Leadership Attributes are the corner stone of differentiation among managers.  These skills define the managerial potential and the incumbent’s reputation within an organization.  We have identified a number of proficiencies we categorize as External Leadership attributes which we believe to be predictors of success for Leaders.


Strategic Focus

Successful managers understand the impact of their role on the business.  Most importantly, successful managers appreciated the inter-relationship and inter-dependencies of their roles among others.  Successful managers promote successful companies.  Our experience points out those truly successful managers have the organizational and personal maturity to avoid internal rivalries with a focus of realizing there is a need for all to be winners, or all ultimately are losers.




Leadership Challenge Alignment

Our experience repeatedly points out those successful managers have more that one management style they use with individual reports.  Worldwide, when mangers move up the career path, we have found that they become more delegators.  Obviously, there is a need to do this based on demands of time.  Our experience, however, indicates that successful managers, even in top positions, style ranges from directive to delegation, and they choose the appropriate style based on the task and the skill maturity of those direct reports. They are directive in suggesting to their direct reports that they pattern this behavior.


Industry Knowledge

Regardless of the amount of time a manger has spent in that organization’s industry, they can be perceived to have a strong content knowledge of the industry, its dynamics and position in world markets. This is an area we have found for extensive self-study if a manager is coming from a different sector.  The more successful managers have developed strongly held views on the future trends in their industry.



We found that the more successful managers are role models for avoiding expediency.  Basically, we have found that these managers refuse to compromise and cut corners in the belief that their personal reputation is at issue.  These ladies and gentlemen, epitomize management by values.


The scandals at Enron, AIG, WorldCom, among others have raised the importance and visibility of this attribute.  Independent of Sarbanes Oxley, these managers “walk the talk” of Ethics.


Public Relations

Successful managers cannot practice mushroom management in respect to the general public, or more importantly, their employees and stockholders.  Our experience has found that the more successful mangers have developed a flair for external PR as manifested by the writing of articles or Op-Ed pieces, speeches, and interviews. As well they are pro-active in terms of efficient communication within their organizations.


Influence Management

Influence management are those skills that characterize the person’s positive ability to make a difference within the organization’s culture.  These skills build internal trust in a manager as he or she progresses up the career ladder.  This benefits the organization when the manger, through these proficiencies, is more accepted and credible when achieving a senior leadership position.


Conflict Management

Among the three options, avoidance, dealing with conflict badly or dealing with it well, our indicators are that successful managers make a good faith effort to resolve conflict in a principled and fair manner.  These managers engender a reputation for balancing assertiveness with compassion.   Above all contentious issues are not allowed to fester.





Network & Coalition Building

Successful managers are recognized for the quality of their relationships on multiple levels.  Foremost are their internal and external networks.  They can solicit and transmit information freely and with recognition that what they are being told is truthful and with the quid-pro-quo that they as well, are not misrepresenting their position.


Effective team management and participation is also a predictor of success.  My colleagues and I speculate that in the near term, this activity will only increase in importance as the business horizon becomes more competitive.


Staff Development

Everyone benefits when mentoring is positive.  We have found that managers who have engendered reputations as sought after mentors have predictably been more successful.  Our proven hypothesis is that these managers have a better appreciation of the energies that can be harnessed through people.  Most importantly, managers who are good mentors are usually good teachers.  As they evolve to higher levels in the organization, building stronger relationships, they are more likely to have their visions followed than managers who are perceived to be peevish, and “not having the time”.


Self-Directed Leadership

In the last decade the Management Assessment Process has been for us a core-consulting tool.  Through this work, we have identified predictors for future success. Our consolidated findings support our hypothesis that many of these skills cannot be taught.  Alternatively they require personal initiative in acquisition.


Our hypothesis is not intended to diminish the value of organization driven Leadership Development programs.  We take the view, however, that organization initiatives on their own, even when defined and managed, can only be relied upon to a degree.  The managers themselves need to be participants in controlling their own destiny. 


The Talent in any company is its only appreciating asset.  With this in mind we suggest that putting developmental onus on the manager as well as the organization, is a sensible request.



2 Responses

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