Developing Leaders for Real: Proven Approaches That Deliver Impact

Cover of Developing Leaders for Real: Proven Approaches That Deliver Impact


Table of contents

(20 chapters)

This chapter forms the introduction to the book and offers an overview on the main aspects of leadership development that require explanation and further consideration. The current poor state of much development is considered and evidence provided of the deficiency in our understanding of organisations and how they function in actuality.

The misunderstandings about how people behave and how they really manage or lead are explored. One of the most important of these is the assumption of transferability, not just between national and regional cultures but within societal cultures, sectors, industries and organisations. This assumption applies equally to learning interventions which can have contradictory forms by being based on criteria external to the company and the individual leaders within it. The dominance of university business schools is also questioned.

The introduction concludes with an overview of the two-part format of the book and provides a pen picture of each chapter.


The chapter describes an approach to teaching people how to understand organisations by focussing on observing what is going on in the group itself and the experiences of the members individually and collectively. This mode of learning does not use descriptions or theories about organisations but sees each group as unique in its particularities not as generalisable behaviour. The approach is called subjective theory and provides a basis for a general theory of organisations which has eluded most writers but is epitomised in the work of Carl Rogers and Encounter Groups.

The method fits well with the concept of the reflective practitioner and has a long tradition dating from the 1930s and the work of the Tavistock Institute and Elliot Jaques, and the Glacier Papers. The approach has been poplar in the UK, Canada, the USA, Western Europe, South Africa and Australia. Subjective theory provides a way of counterbalancing the currently dominant objective approaches used in artificial intelligence which often becomes reductionist and simplistic.


This chapter explores the nature of learning required for effective leaders. The case is made that learning is not all one process and the difference between Learning 1 and Learning 2, as proposed by Bateson, is favoured as a model. Put simply learning, for instance, lots of facts (Learning 1) does not necessarily help the leader become more courageous, more self-confidant and more driven by deep values and beliefs. A case study of a Self Managed Learning programme for school heads is used to show the importance of Learning 2 and a way to focus development at this level. There is also a case study of a company that was seen as the best in its field folding due to the emphasis on Learning 1 (particularly technical skill) and lack of attention to Learning 2 qualities.


In the rapidly changing, increasingly uncertain environment the quality of leadership will be the key to business long-term success. The focus will be on the so-called soft skills: humanity, cooperation, social responsibilitiy, ethical behaviour, flexibility, conflict handling and trust building. But how can these skills be acquired?

They can most easily be learned through a long-term socialisation process. Family values and early childhood positive education experiences can be the bedrock for developing these skills or human attitudes. Mentors and role models are also very helpful for their continuous development.

Interviews with a Hungarian sample of organisational leaders prove these skills cannot be learned in a typical business school which concentrates on managerial techniques for individual competitiveness. In addition, in a society where political connections hold high importance, it is not easy to succeed just based on the earlier-mentioned leadership skills. The leaders indicated that it is also important to keep good connections with the country’s political leaders. The environmental, political and social system, societal cultural values are also influencing factors as expressed by the interviewed leaders.

Any development experiences to support leaders must, therefore, take into account the culture of the society in which they live, the context of their organisation and the background of each individual leader. These experiences must also provide opportunities for leaders to learn over time, with others, to continuously reflect on mistakes, change and develop. These are the leaders who will succeed in the long term.


The situation in South Africa regarding leadership learning has received ample attention since independence in 1994. Developers have to perform their duties within new multicultural requirements in the form of contextual challenges, social justice measures and ethical responsiveness. Close attention also had to be paid to the constitutional imperatives of equity, access and redress that were pronounced as measures correcting past injustices. Apart from having to perform effectively, organisations were further obliged to implement affirmative action in the form of requirements on non-discrimination, inclusiveness, non-racialism and non-sexism.

From a leadership perspective, the main concern addressed in this chapter is how such multiple cultural realities are accommodated as part of leadership development. A transformational approach has been selected to serve this purpose. In this approach, learning is seen as workplace oriented and built on the engagement and reflection of adult learners on issues in the real-life setting. It is understood that these learners are self-directed and independent; they strive for immediate application and continually reflect on problems and issues in their organisations.


The proposition is that a self-governing society needs more effective interactions between the three Spheres of Commerce, Public Administration and Politics. This is notably the case for organisations dealing with complex protocols and jurisdictions, each containing its own norms and practices. Effective leaders need to grapple knowingly and positively with matters far outside the realm of their traditions.

Frictions arise between the Spheres because each has differing motives and driving forces. The resulting collisions, cooperations and contests between the Spheres are never-ending, but the needs for cooperation drive them on. They will never fully merge because their missions are dissimilar, and so the forces that propel their actions are also distinctively, sometimes jarringly, different. Business people tend to think that only they operate in a competitive market. Yet Public Administrations also have deep-seated market features. Intermingling with these Spheres is the Social Sector; a demi-monde of Non-government Organisations, international regulators and authorities, advisory boards, industry bodies, think tanks, consultancies and other hybrid interface organisations.

Enhancement of the increasingly mutual interests of the Spheres will, if progressed well, raise the effectiveness and achievements of them all. This has implications for many forms of leadership development. A greater focus on sociotechnical systems should help the inhabitants of each of the three Spheres to fully recognise the validities and driving forces of the other two Spheres. There is a heightened need for collective problem-solving. There is a huge opportunity for a more integrated approach to cross-pollinating leadership development.


This chapter, written from the perspective of an adult educator employed in universities in diverse international locations, focusses on the efficacy of developing leaders in the usually highly institutionalised context of higher education (HE) and further education (FE). The contexts of HE vary considerably at national, regional, local and individual organisational levels. This chapter traverses concepts aligned to adult learning on the assumption that the ways in which leaders develop is a function of how individuals learn in the HE context within the constraints and opportunities open to them. These principles of educational leadership emanate from more democratic ideas, derived from adult learning concepts, surrounding effective leadership.

Discussion on developing leadership in HE institutions is based primarily on practices observed in everyday academic life. Areas of functionality common to universities include teaching, research, supervision and community engagement. Each of these areas is explored as the author has juggled personal/professional development against the expectations and demands of institutional life. The author provides three examples of middle management practices which link to developing leadership in fairly heavily politicised environments. While formal structures prevail in HE contexts, the value of informal learning with colleagues is not to be under-estimated. Where leadership principles and lifelong learning ideas are aligned in actual practice – as in mentoring programmes – the scope for greater autonomy and cooperation is highlighted. Effective leadership often works best when sound pedagogical principles are to the fore.


In a world of continuous volatility, complexity and uncertainty, the need for enhanced leadership has gained significant attention. Leadership development efforts continue to scale up but fail to produce the desired leaders. This calls for fundamental changes in the way leadership development happens.

Knowing this very well, it is ironic that organisations remain limited in their ability to develop leadership talent. Leadership models may be inadequate to prepare our leaders for the future. Effective leadership development frameworks need to take a contextual view and evolve sustainable and competitively integrated solutions to today’s leadership challenges.

This chapter explores the changing paradigms related to leadership development and highlights how contextual enablers will help practitioners better select and develop leaders.


Choosing or designing learning events involving groups should ideally mean adopting an approach which is consistent with the values and principles of leadership that the event is intended to promote. These principles should be reflected in the design of the learning event, its structure, processes and the social and political culture it helps to generate. This idea has its foundation in the development of group work involving more participative designs and which value experience as a basis of learning.

This chapter looks at applications of groups to development which take account of more recent ideas of leadership and ways these ideas can be reflected in the structure and methods comprising their design. This chapter also addresses some of the practicalities of leadership development, the role of the facilitator or consultant, frameworks for making sense of group processes and opens up the topic of evaluation. How do we know that our particular group-based approach to leadership development works?


The challenges we face in our organisations and our societies cannot be effectively addressed without wise, hearted, courageous leadership; leadership that is not focussed on a thirst for your own power, control and success. Leadership that is instead dispersed, moving to the person or persons best able to assist others in taking appropriate decisions and action.

As a practical example of how to nurture these forms of leadership, this chapter outlines the Self Managed Learning (SML) framework and describes how programmes might typically run. It explains the process by which leaders truly take responsibility for their own learning and commit to others to support them in theirs, developing both the leadership capability and social capital of the organisation(s) involved.

This chapter also illustrates how SML enables leaders to support and challenge one another to deal more effectively with the complex, fast-moving maelstrom of real opportunities and challenges of they and their teams face. It highlights how the creation of psychological safety allows leaders to develop the personal courage to be open and, therefore, vulnerable to explore their assumptions and to accept others as they are.

Throughout this chapter the impact of SML, often transformational, is evidenced through the testimony of those who have experienced it.


As background information, the authors describe the Service Leadership Initiative (SLI), which provided pump-priming funding for government-funded universities in Hong Kong to develop educational programmes preparing students to become service leaders. The universities were expected to create opportunities for students to develop requisite task competencies, character strengths and caring dispositions through experiential learning. The authors also describe how, prior to the SLI, Lingnan University (LU) had already been building networks and systems for service-learning projects to benefit the community while furthering academic development, and this platform was helpful for service leadership development.

In the core of this chapter, the authors explain how faculty and staff members at LU have designed, structured and supported course embedded service-learning projects that were undertaken by teams of undergraduate students as vehicles for developing their attributes as emerging service leaders.

Based on our prior research into students’ accounts of negative and positive experiences, the authors identify and explain some unfavourable and favourable contextual factors for undergraduates’ development as emerging service leaders. The favourable factors are based on three preconditions: genuine service leadership responsibilities; community partner representatives as co-educators; and the students’ own readiness to practice as service leaders (as opposed to learning passively).

Based on students’ descriptions, the authors provide illustrations of how students practiced ten service leadership attributes in the context of service-learning projects conducted at local kindergartens, and about the further self-developmental needs they identified. This chapter concludes with the observation that the discrete service leadership attributes the authors identified appear in practice to be mutually supporting.


This chapter takes an unusual view of leadership development through the study of philosophies of phenomenology and the works of Martin Heidegger. By focussing on the three elements of space, place and time, Arthur explores their roles in providing a structure or scaffolding for innovative and interesting programmes of learning. Phenomenology allows us to see how leadership skills and behaviours are emergent and are part of a longer journey of development for both individuals and organisations where leadership exists in all parts of the company.

Of course, this treatment of the topics of space, place and time is partially conceptual, however, course designers and developers can now add these lenses and perspectives to their work and provide a better balance to programmes which might otherwise be too full of data, power-point slides and tutor-led discussions. By dovetailing theory with practice, the author seeks to forge a link between those diverse ideas articulated by Martin Heidegger and what really happens in real-life workshops and a wide range of training opportunities. The reader is taken through definitions, case histories, up-to-date theory (which includes the notion of un-leadership) and contemporaneous student feedback from an online programme completed in July 2021.

The chapter allows the reader to then contemplate their own journeys and to consider what they might do to undertake changes in their own approaches. These ideas are offered not as a prescription but as a stimulant to rigorous course design and consideration of the intangible aspects of our lives in leadership.


Leadership is often challenged to provide a sense of continuity in spite of disruptive changes caused by strategic (managed) and external (un managed) processes. The authors reflect on their experience as organisation development consultants to a multinational merger and integration of three companies – part of a 15-year series of industry re-structuring. The authors focus on one intervention, showing how the situation displayed characteristics common in TV serials (soap operas). The authors describe an intervention informed by this analysis, offerings brief vignettes followed by a more extended explanation of how soap opera norms can be more widely applied to organisation and leader development.


This chapter invites leaders to tread the Noble Eightfold Path as a constructive and rewarding practice. It discusses two major instructional steps, each including a series of personal reflections and suggested exercises.

Step 1 explains the Four Noble Truths, which confronts us with the many ways we suffer through our challenges. Leader developers are encouraged to clarify the first Three Noble Truths through a process of contemplating, reflecting, meditating and sharing. Step 2 explains the fourth Noble Truth, also known as the Noble Eightfold Path, which offers a pathway to end our suffering. The Eightfold Path consists of eight contemplations we should practise at all times: (1) right view, (2) right intention, (3) right speech, (4) right action, (5) right livelihood, (6) right effort, (7) right mindfulness and (8) right concentration. Participants may obtain best insight into step 2 by focussing on the issues they identified in step 1.

Using the Noble Eightfold Path in the development of leaders illustrates the importance of engaging in leadership practices that elevate wellbeing of the self and others, by practising a set of interrelated behaviours, which could be described as a process of connecting the heart with the mind. The strategy discussed in this chapter may appeal to leaders who aspire choosing the high road and aim to keep their conscience as clean as possible, while paving a constructive and sustainable global path towards acceptance, understanding, respect and collective wellbeing.


The massive, complex problems facing the world in the twenty-first century demand effective leadership that can offer good judgement, systems thinking and unity. What we have in so many instances is self-serving, myopic, divisive and polarising leaders.

The radical changes that are needed in the selection and development of wise leaders are creating a growing role for coaches. However, at the same time the concept of leadership as being vested in an authority figure is giving way to leadership as a function distributed amongst teams. So, the focus of coaching on one-to-one leader development can be seen as compounding the problems of organisational inflexibility – not least because the unit of productivity in organisations is now the team, not the individual. An inevitable outcome of these trends is a radical rethink of both leadership and coaching.


This concluding chapter identifies where we might place our attention going forward and confirms the principles on which we should base our work. We do not mandate what should form best practice in leadership development, nor is there an attempt to forecast what might happen globally. We both encourage readers to base their efforts on evidence and point to arenas where there is a particular or pressing need for change, such as in the development of political leaders.

This chapter addresses the continuing lack of systemic thinking and identifies ways in which pressures on leaders are increasing. It also shows how problems of mindset require consideration. The call for diversity will be unsurprising and ways leadership development can and should support this are offered; demand not supply-led, learning as a social process and a call to consider ‘teams’ in a far broader way than its metaphorical origins of ‘teams in competitions with winners and losers’.

We could not end the book without addressing the virtual world into which leaders have been further catapulted recently due to Covid-19. We do not explore this creative landscape in all its exciting detail – that would be a book on its own. We more challenge the idea that the kind of person-centred, open, deeply-reflective and other-connected leadership development the organisational world needs will not be found solely online.

This chapter concludes with a final call to action for all of us to base our work on research, theory and evidenced practice.

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