Late one night a police officer sees a man on his hands and knees searching the ground near a streetlight. The officer asks him what is wrong.

The man replies, “I am looking for my car keys.”

The officer helps him look for several minutes and after no luck, asks, “Are you sure you dropped them here?”

“No,” replies the man, “I lost the keys somewhere across the street.”

“Then why are we looking here?” asks the surprised police officer.

“Because,” the man explains, “The light is much better here.”

Versions of this humorous tale have been told for centuries across many cultures. It describes what scientists have dubbed the “streetlight effect”— the idea that we often search for answers where it is easy to look, or where we are used to looking, rather than where the answer is actually most likely to be. Time and time again, this error has limited the progress of science.

In the field of leadership, our streetlight has shone on behavioral competencies as the standard for all leadership development. But leadership encompasses much more than behaviors—what happens inside leaders’ minds also plays an important role in creating effective leaders.

As a field, we have long considered the mind a “black box”— an unknown and unknowable area — and so, like in the streetlight story, we have looked elsewhere.

In this paper, we suggest that it is time to expand the light to include the mind and its interplay with behaviors.

We examine less visible forces such as leaders’ physiological, emotional, and mental processes to broaden the focus and increase the efficacy of leadership development, and propose an innovative model that adds aspects of the mind and lived experience for a more holistic leadership lens.


Additional Contributing Author:

Carol Connolly takes an interdisciplinary approach to leadership development, having developed leaders for 25 years and practiced leadership since 1975. A former senior faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership, she designs and delivers customized engagements that address both business and leadership challenges. During her CCL tenure, Carol cosponsored CCL’s Neuroscience & Leadership Initiative, which applies brain-based research to leadership practices and programs. Prior to joining CCL, Carol was an executive coach and senior consultant at two leader and talent development firms. In addition, Carol has 12 years of line, portfolio, and risk-management experience with two global financial institutions. Carol earned her MBA at A. B. Freeman School of Business, Tulane University, and BA from Connecticut College. Since 2006, Carol has traveled to India to explore the functioning and development of the mind in a holistic approach to learning, growth, and transformation. Carol lives in the San Juan Mountains of western Colorado where she hikes, bikes, and skis when she can.

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