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I know I have been quiet for a while but it has been with good reason. Over the last four months I have interviewed 30 leadership development experts from China, Great Britain, Canada, the U.S., New Zealand (yes, we have some), the Netherlands and Australia. The goal has been to work out what are the newest, most interesting and breakthrough approaches these experts are using to develop leaders in their countries. I’ll be publishing the results in an upcoming whitepaper, but over the next few weeks I’ll start outlining the main points of what I learned from them, as well as 15 tools and methods that they are using.

To get started here is an overview of the key principals I discovered.

Principal 1 – It’s about Mindsets not Skillsets


According to the experts I interviewed far too much time is spent in leadership development programs teaching people leadership ‘skills’. What actually derails or stalls most leaders isn’t a lack of skills, it is the combination of a changing environment and a stuck mindset. The most successful leaders are what is known as ‘learning agile’. They continuously evolve and adjust which means they can; get comfortable with a lot of uncertainty, learn quickly from other people, shift their leadership identity as their role changes.

The future of leadership development will focus less on skill set expansion and more on mindset expansion. New skills are easy to learn, but new mindsets are the future. [tweet this]

Principal 2 – Get Focused on What Really Works: The Three Levers of Development


Warren Buffett tells the story that the first time he and Bill Gates met they were at a party when Bill Gates Senior asked members of their table, what was the one thing that most helped them succeed? According to Buffett, he and Gates both gave the same answer, “I know how to focus”.

Most leadership development programs aren’t focused. They are a grab bag of different tools, techniques and methodologies thrown together, which don’t really coalesce around any guiding principles. But if you really want to help leaders develop you must begin with one simple fact – development is hard. And when things are hard you can’t afford to waste time and energy doing things that don’t work. Instead you must learn the levers that really lead to development and focus everything on them. In my interviews with the thirty experts I found that they used a wide variety of methods, but they believed development took off under three key conditions:

1. Heat Experiences: The leader puts himself into complex situations that disrupt and disorientate his habitual way of making sense of the world. The leader needs to grow to survive.

2. Colliding Perspectives: The leader creates ‘collisions’ with people from different functions, backgrounds, occupations, ethnicities and worldviews. These encounters open the leader’s mind and increase the number of perspectives through which she can see the world. She is growing a ‘bigger mind’.

3. New Map Making: Using these new experiences and perspectives, the leader works with a person or process to build new beliefs, stories and mental models that are more advanced and better suited to the emerging leadership context.

Many leadership programs contain one or two of these elements, but it is when you combine all three that you really create a strong container for development to occur. So how do you actually help leaders do these things? Based on the interviews I learned 15 approaches that the practitioners interviewed found the most powerful for helping leaders grow. There are five under each of the three levers . Over the next few weeks I’ll share my favorite ones with you. More soon……

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