Academic journal article Journal of Leadership Studies

Today's Corporate Executive Leadership Programs: Building for the Future

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership Studies

Today's Corporate Executive Leadership Programs: Building for the Future

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

Companies are making great strides in their efforts to develop leadership talent and ability in their organizations, but predicting and consistently building leadership in the executive levels of the company remain very difficult endeavors. Many companies are investing in upper level leadership development programs, with a real hope for strategic benefits to their organization. Uncertainty remains as to what these leadership development programs should be teaching their participants, and whether real competitive advantage can accrue. This article stems from our recent review of the research and practitioner literature to document the approaches to leadership development being recommended by leadership experts and being performed by leading organizations.

The paper discusses current thought on what it takes to be a leader, how such can be instructed, and the approaches currently being used by three leading organizations. We provide a number of observations, interpretations, and suggestions for carrying out successful leadership development efforts.

We are all familiar with the naysayers who claim that leaders are a "dying breed." Many current leaders lament that they struggle to find and develop successors, and it has become popular to talk about how our new crop of potential leaders generally lack discipline, lack principle, and lack "what it takes" to become a strong leader figure. Unfortunately, it is not clear that we in management are doing a stellar job of developing our potential future leaders, once we get them into our organizations. Certainly those of us in the management education arena have scrutinized our pedagogical approaches in the hopes of better instilling and developing leadership qualities. Surveys by various organizations reveal an unhealthy gap between what current leaders are doing and what followers expect them to do. It is certainly unclear who is to blame, but it is clear that leadership represents a serious challenge for companies in the future.

In an environment characterized by worldwide competition, true leadership (rather than management) is what sets the outstanding company apart from the "also-rans." Many articles through the years on setting and implementing the strategic direction of the firm (see e.g. Collins and Porras, 1996; Porter, 1996) make the argument that visionary creativity, innovation, and determination are mandatory for instilling true strategic direction, discipline, and focus in an organization. In the eyes of many strategy authorities, leadership must go well beyond the traditional notion of "Motivating and inspiring employees," and must be seen as a key competitive weapon (Pfeffer, 1995). To give significant competitive advantage, a leader must provide his or her organization with some key elements: strong moral integrity and certainty of purpose and beliefs, dedication to the corporate vision and purpose, high levels of creativity and innovation, comfort with ambiguity and experimentation, strong drive and optimism, dedication to building service and other corporate competence, strong social/team skills and persuasiveness, and emotional stability and intelligence (see e.g. Brown, 1996; Conger, 1998; Goleman, 1998; Hamel and Prahalad, 1994; Hodgetts, 1996). Some observers note that we must get away from the command and control model of administration and management and move toward the model of "serve and support" Leadership where followers are given a great deal of latitude and "psychological capital" to chart their own course (Argyris, 1998; Brown, 1996; Simons and Davila, 1998). Wishart, Elam, and Robey (1996) characterize leadership and vision as a necessity for building a learning organization, instilling a cultural desire to build new ideas, try new methods, and create new approaches to conducting business.

Kouzes and Posner (1995) warn that potential leaders start with "one strike against them" for the current business situation is especially devastating to the institution of leadership. …

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