Where Is Organizational Power Heading?

January 13, 2014

I agree wholeheartedly with the CEO of a long-standing client who said, ‘The most important task of leadership is developing people.’ 

We all nod in agreement. Intellectually, we ‘get’ that there’s no smarter way to equip ourselves and our organizations for ongoing uncertainty and a continuing complex future.

Imagine a world where everyone around you is actively engaged in solving their own problems, eagerly practicing new learning, acting out of self-directed leadership, and holding themselves and others accountable for the ongoing learning that defines the new world. 

Does this imagining seem more like fantasy than a future workplace in the making? I’m not the only one who less than a decade ago couldn’t conceive of professional workers setting their own schedules and working in the comfort of their homes— in pajamas if they so choose.  Or that a company as unconventionally structured as Apple could not only thrive that way but also set standards for more traditional companies.

I see the full-fledged learning culture coming into existence as a near-future reality, evolving steadily and surely.  And the ‘winner take all’ are those who can apply the most game changing people development strategies, enabling entire teams to fire on all cylinders.

“If you can imagine it, you can create it. If you can dream it, you can become it.”   William Arthur Ward

This new culture calls out to you and you commit to it the moment you grasp that you with your small band of high potentials alone cannot  sustain higher volumes of increasingly complex tasks. It’s become an imperative to raise everyone’s game through development.

So why are many of us as leaders so challenged to carry out this imperative?

Of course, there’s a host of unique reasons, but in my coaching experience, these seven inhibitors tend to show up most often:

Leaders who are not yet developing people as their top priority may:

  1. have not yet given up their need for personal control.
  2. want to give up control but don’t know how/where to start.
  3. believe that others can’t or don’t want to change or lead, OR they don’t place trust in the ability and potential of others.*
  4. not yet be skilled at inspiring and effectively coaching others to learn and take full accountability for their own outcomes.
  5. not have a vision of what the next higher level of leadership looks like or requires of them, so they can’t see what to aspire to.
  6. find comfort in their current mode of operating, and/or don’t know how to make changes that will hoist them to a higher level of leadership.  
  7. rarely seek or apply new learning related to leadership, making themselves ill-prepared to function as leaders and developers of people.

*note: there may be members of your team who have sufficiently demonstrated that they can’t or don’t want to change—this is a different problem and a significant time-drain on high potential leaders.

Sometimes the further up the corporate ladder leaders move, the less open they are to the vulnerability that accompanies new learning.  They may regard the need for learning as a weakness. Perhaps early learning was the ticket to getting to their career goal, and having arrived, reject the need for further leadership development.  Many would argue that they are always learning and I don’t disagree. Learning often takes the form of new knowledge acquisition, trying out new strategies, and experiencing new insights. But how much of their learning translates into behaviour changes that make them better people developers and people leaders?

I ask this question simply because of the number of leaders in all the organizations I’ve coached with who ask questions or make comments like these:

‘Can I ask, is my boss eligible for coaching?’ Or I’ve been told on countless occasions, ‘my leader could really benefit from this kind of coaching.’ Or, ‘do you think our executive team has been exposed to executive coaching?’ Or ‘I’m going to recommend to our President that our executives go through a coaching program like this.’

Francis Bacon said that knowledge is power. But real power lies in applying knowledge.

As advanced learning cultures around the globe blossom and move closer to the future I’m imagining, I wonder:  what will finally happen to those who have stopped applying new learning due to position, power, comfort, or entitlement?  At the very least, today’s promising upstarts in leadership will, by example, put pressure on those above and beside them to continue developing and to develop others. 

Happy Monday!

Warmest regards,


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