Why develop the whole leader?

A member of a online listserv I am a part of recently posted the question, “Developing the person, is that really specific for leaders? Is that what leadership development is about?” What follows in my response.


Interesting question … or series of questions.

Without getting into an exploration of the distinction between ‘leadership’ and ‘management’ as others have so eloquently done in responding to this question, in undertaking my work I tend to consider the question, “Who is a leader in the first place?”

I consider a leader to be: “Anyone willing to step up and help transform a vision for a better future into reality” (refer to my post How Are You Being A Leader?) for an explanation of how I arrived at this definition). This way of considering leadership support me – and the people I work with – to enter into an exploration of leadership separate their role title, role level, or role responsibilities. I get the sense that to speak of one’s leadership through these ‘filters’ is a distraction from an exploration of one’s “true nature” as a leader.

This definition of a leader also provides another useful opportunity – I think that what is being called for at this time is for each and every person to identify and step fully into their leadership for themselves, humanity and the world. I truly belief that we are all leaders – even if we do not yet own this realisation.

In my experience, asking people the question “How are you being a leader” allows allows for an exploration of the inner work of a person, which is how I am interpreting the intent of the question posted on the listserv. Self-inquiry and exploration of how a person is being a leader allow an openness to delving into questions such as: who am I; what is my purpose; how do I make sense of myself, the people around me, and my world; what are my unique strengths/gifts; what is my unique ‘signature’ as a leader; what more is possible for me in aligning who I am and my unique leadership signature with my purpose, etc? I find that the deeper within a leader goes in exploring who they are in relation to their leadership, the greater of ‘capacity’ they invite through themselves in how they step up to help transform their vision for a better future into reality.

I sense this to be true for me too. In continuing to orient how I am being as a leader I continue to connect in with my unique expression of my leadership. In leading myself and others from this ‘place’ (a place within) I feel I am able to access a deep power, confidence and personal resonance. I also feel that I undertake my work with a stronger sense of purpose and with significantly great clarity.

What is amazing to me is that I don’t seem to have to work too hard to hold a space for a person to identify and step more fully into their leadership. It is as though people want to ‘go there’. In working with leaders at all levels, sectors and organisations I am increasingly finding that a person’s ‘level’ (or role or tasks/responsibilities) do not seem relevant. I am learning that a person’s unique manifestation of their leadership provides the context of their life and work; whereas their role etc is just the content and form they are using to explore that context. A clarity of personal and unique) ‘context’ is all a person needs to be a leader.

A colleague I was working with today highlighted this to me once again. In working together we explored her ‘gifts’ as a leader. Those that come through her from her ‘true nature’, from her very essence; the ‘gifts’ that (I guess) could be argued to be her ‘birth-right’; the ‘gifts’ that have always been with her; the ‘gifts’ that are a part of her very essence, so not learnt, taught or trained. The ‘gifts’ that are always there, waiting to be ‘owned’. I feel this principle to be correct for all people – a universal truism, I guess. And I have a lived experience of this for myself. In times when my unique ‘gifts’ rise to the top and I ‘just know’ what to do in the moment, without thought, and I act from this deeper knowing and it is effortless … I am ‘in the zone’.

Back to my colleague. In exploring these ‘gifts’ together we both felt a deepening within her – a shift from ‘needing to be more’ to knowing that she is and will always be enough. A deeper knowing that there is nothing else to learn, to prove, or to desire in order to become the leader she wants to become. Rather, in connecting back into her unique leadership ‘signature’ she said to be that she simply had a sense that she needed to get out of her own way and allowing herself to shine.

I think (and feel!) that the inner work of leadership is critical. Stepping into one’s unique offering as a leader for the world is one of life’s more difficult journeys and the most important journey. As I mentioned to my client today – “You have a responsibility to yourself and others to take ownership of your unique ‘gifts’ as a leader, for you are the only one who can.”

Just a few thoughts.