Leadership Development is not Supposed to be FUN

When it comes to leadership development, I’ve always been a bit of a curmudgeon. Here’s the way I’ve always thought about leadership development:

There is no such thing as a natural born leader – it takes a lot of HARD work to become one. If it was easy, then we wouldn’t be having discussions about a lack of leaders.

Geoff Colvin, in his book Talent is Overrated, was right on. NO ONE ever got good at anything without hundreds and hundreds of hours of repetitive, boring practice.

Since we moved to the seacoast, I’ve been trying to learn to surf. It’s involved a lot of falling and getting water up my nose and sand in my ears. The 18-year-old that gave me my first lesson just shook his head and told me, “Hang in there dude, you’ll get there, it’s just going to take a LOT of hard work”. For now, it’s not much fun. It hurts; it’s frustrating, and sometimes embarrassing. Someday I may actually be able to stand up and ride a decent wave. That would be the real reward – and then it becomes fun!

Real leadership development should be more science than art, backed up with tried and true evidence-based theory and practices. Fads will come and go, but the laws of physics are timeless. At the end of the day, there are only 6 ways to learn to be a better leader:

1. Job changes

2. Challenging assignments (on or off the job)

3. Hardships (learning from failure, personal setbacks)

4. Learning from others (good and bad bosses, roles models, coaches, mentors, etc…)

5. Feedback

6. Courses (that incorporate 2-5), books, and other formal learning

Getting tough feedback, taking on a stretch assignment, being promoted to a new, unfamiliar role, working with a coach, making mistakes, and sweating thorough a realistic simulation or role play may be challenging and rewarding, but usually not a lot of fun. In fact, if you’re having too much fun, I doubt you’re really developing.

You know that queasy feeling you have when you’re about to do something really scarey? That’s when you know you’re developing. Lominger calls it “developmental heat”.

There are no short cuts, silver bullets, magic pills, or miracle elixirs when it comes to becoming a great leader. However, there’s a huge, hungry audience that’s all too willing to shell out big bucks to take a shot at the latest and greatest fad.

Here’s a sampling of real leadership development programs being offered today:

1. Leadership development via a round of golf:

“Transforms today’s managers into tomorrow’s leaders by combining experiential leadership development methods with simulation (including a unique business simulation on the golf course!).”

2. Leadership development through cooking and eating:

“The Restaurant Challenge combines an optimum blend of world-class executive facilitation and coaching with complex, powerful, engaging and real live business challenges – the setting up of a successful restaurant – to create the ideal environment for effective and lasting leadership development.”

3. Leading development through horse whispering;

“Courses with Horses combine horse whispering and non-directive coaching in powerful learning experiences through which clients explore and expand their leadership capabilities.”

4. Leadership development through sailing:

“An ideal team building and leadership development sailing program. BoatWorks leverages a non-racing, multi-boat format to get your group gelling as they battle the wind, the currents, their collective anxieties and a special group challenge, all under the watchful eyes of a professional coaching staff.”

5. Leadership development though fire walking:

21 people treated for burns after firewalk at Tony Robbins appearance.

OK, so maybe this one’s not such a good idea.

6. And last but not least, what better way to learn to lead others than leadership development through paintball:

“No other leadership training program comes close to this fear conquering event. One Day Adventures utilizes the outdoor or indoor paintball field to squeeze the fear out of leaders. Imagine storming the gate of the enemy while leading a group of your peers in the face of overwhelming odds.”

These are just of a few – there are many, many more.

Clearly, there are many in leadership development that are having more fun than I am. Maybe it’s time to lighten up and to jump on the bandwagon?

How about this: Cowabunga: the Great Leadership Surf Camp for Leaders?