Leader Development vs Leadership Development

Mr Stephen Scott and Dr Phillip Moulds have spent most of their lives refining their understanding of effective leadership. In this article they describe the difference between leader development and leadership development and argue that schools should move focus from developing the leader to “developing whole of organisation leadership behaviour and attitudes”. 

Society needs to improve the conversation relating to leadership. There is a lot of white noise out there on the subject of leadership, and as two people who have made leadership their life, we do have genuine concerns regarding some beliefs about leadership. However, we also believe people are initiating leadership conversations because in one way or another, we all recognise a concerning deficit of authentic leadership, made all the more obvious by behaviour and actions of leaders; whether this be a sporting coach of a football team of 9-year-olds starting a UFC-style brawl on the sideline of a game or one of the myriad stories regarding CEOs being accused of fraud. 

Leadership and Organisational Performance 

Leadership in every form – good, bad or otherwise, has a bearing on organisational performance. Organisations today, are far more complex than they ever have been. They exist in an environment where the pressure of competition is relentless and the rate of change is accelerating. Organisations waste millions of dollars every year by appointing the wrong people to leadership positions, or not developing people to become effective leaders, or by creating cultures where even leaders with great potential are likely to fail. 

There is no doubt organisations, of which schools are one example, need their leaders to get more from themselves as well as their staff, not only in a cost-effective way, but also in a way that enhances motivation and wellbeing. Clearly there is an ethical driver behind improving staff motivation and wellbeing, but also an economic driver since damaging either is a guarantee that any investment in leadership development will be short lived. 

This obvious truth raises critical questions about the nature of leadership in a modern society and of a school’s approach to developing both leaders and leadership.

We firmly believe there is a way forward that enables schools to develop leaders and build organisational leadership capacity, while at the same time creating an environment in which staff can and want to give more and experience a greater quality of life through improved motivation and wellbeing. 

Whatever the mission of an organisation, most people with responsibilities to lead will set some kind of growth agenda. Because ‘growth’ is something a leader strives for, we will use the growth of a tree as an analogy to demonstrate a significant misunderstanding about leadership. 

There are things about a tree that are obvious and not so obvious. When we look at the physical tree, we see everything above the ground. What we can’t see is the root system that exists below ground level that gives life to the tree above. The health of the root system determines the health of the tree. All roots extend from a parent root known as the tap root. The tap root extends down from the centre of the tree and feeds all other roots branching out from it. Should the tree be cut off at the base of the trunk, the tap root will ensure that eventually the tree stump will begin to sprout, giving new life to the tree. During the growth phase of the tree, the tap root ensures it grows also by reserving some of the Earth’s nutrients for itself. 

When we look at an organisation, ew see its operations and the people responsible for running them. These are the branches of an organisation. How effectively these branches grow and collaborate with each other determines the overall productivity and quality of work delivered by the whole organisation. From this perspective what may not be immediately obvious to the observer, is the leadership of that organisation. We can certainly see the leaders, but we can’t always see leadership. We either experience the rewards of good leadership or the consequences of bad leadership. Good leadership is inspirational, encouraging supportive, reflective, informative and stimulating. Bad leadership is quite the opposite. 

Using the tree analogy, leadership is what gives life to the organisation seen in the way all the carious branches of the organisation interact with each other. The health of the leadership will absolutely determine the health of the organisation.

The metaphorical root system of an organisation is its overall culture and climate, and the leadership paradigm existing within it. The metaphorical tap root of an organisation is therefore the character, or aggregate of personal qualities, of the leader responsible for the culture. Like the tap root of a tree, the leaders must invest in themselves first to ensure they are their best selves, in order to create a culture and climate that realises growth in its people.

Leader Development vs Leadership Development

Why do we believe society needs to improve the conversation relating to leadership? Because we know many leaders in senior leadership positions haven’t yet differentiated between leader development and leadership development. Leadership is the capability, actions and behaviour of a person or persons to inspire other people to be leaders themselves. Leadership is a state or condition existing between people that most people would refer to as ‘culture’. An organisational culture is typified by its productivity and quality of work, the capacity of the team to do the job without the leader directly controlling activity, and the overall quality of life experienced by the people of the organisation. When senior management experiences an issue with either one or all of these cultural traits, they will typically implement a program aimed at either the organisational level (senior, middle or frontline leadership) or functional area (a particular area of service within the organisational context). This is know as leader development. 

A leader development program focuses on developing individual-level interpersonal competencies (cognitive, emotional and self-awareness skills for examples) in isolation from the rest of the organisation. For example, selection of an emerging leader to attend an external professional development program. There is a need to reflect on the consequences for individuals who undertake this approach. Most become excited by the experience, the affirmation it brings and the new possibilities for behaving in ways that are more fulfilling for themselves and their colleagues. The first challenge for the organisation is that these individuals might become more aware of the dissonance between these possibilities and the reality of the less than effective leadership practised in their organisation. The subsequent effect on their personal morale, performance and wellbeing can also bring negative responses to the organisation, which is clearly not in its interest. 

The most formidable barriers to the success of emerging leaders can be the behaviour, actions and attitudes of the most senior managers because they believe that their status in the organisation is evidence enough that they have what it takes to be regarded as a leader and regard their own development as unnecessary. Despite that, they believe the emerging leaders below them need it. 

Our own experiences of working with organisations on cultural transformation throughout the world, have led us to seriously question whether it is ethical to work with specific groups in organisations when those at the top of the organisation are not willing to accept that their leadership style might be at variance with the underlying values and model of leadership being taught. 

A New Leadership Paradigm

It is time to introduce a new leadership paradigm which places emphasis on developing whole of organisation leadership behaviour and attitudes by running programs that include members from all functional areas and from all management levels of the organisation, rather than isolated to a specific person or branch. 

Leadership development refers to the alignment of multiple people to agreed leadership processes in a while organisational context and beyond. It emphasises: 

  • Quality of relationships, depth of networking, mutual trust and commitment, as well as an appreciation of the social and political context and its implications for leadership styles and actions 
  • That what matters is a person’s sum score on a set of leadership competencies or skills 
  • How people use what talents they have, to influence and work with others to get the job done on time and to standard. 

Leadership development makes a great difference in how and whether people in the organisation thrive. It explores ‘authentic leadership’, that doesn’t pigeon hole people at certain levels of management or professional streaming, but rather engages people from all organisational levels and functional areas. Such an approach has massive benefits for the person, for the teams in which they are involved and the organisation as a whole. 

Herein lies the fundamental difference in the outcomes of leader development and leadership development. Leader development focuses on building human capital, a noble venture, however with significant limitations as previously outlined. Leadership development focuses on building social capital which, as it turns out, develops human capital as well. It helps identify values, beliefs and goals, connections between people, and how people within an organisation can use their talents and abilities not only for their own good, but also for the good of others in the organisation and the organisation as a whole. 

Leadership at Rockhampton Grammar School

An example of leadership development at The Rockhampton Grammar School (RGS) is the school’s leadership program. Currently in its third year, the program recognises that leadership at all levels of RGS is exciting and interesting, but also can be complicated and challenging. The leadership program brings together people at different levels of the school, with each group of 12 t0 14 participating in the program including teachers, middle managers, members of the leadership team and administration staff. Importantly it also draws staff from the Early Learning Centre, primary and secondary parts of the school so that all staff can develop together and learn from each other. 

The program takes an inside-out approach to help participants meet the demands of their situation and develop their leadership capabilities. Participants focus on communication, awareness, influence, agility, resilience and image. They gain a picture of their personal strengths and challenges, create a plan to move forward, and enact this plan with support from others. At the core of the program is the understanding that leadership growth starts from within – a person’s character. 

By focusing on core foundations of leadership practice in the program, the 40 staff have moved their understanding beyond an emphasis on the acquisition of discrete knowledge and processes of a leader, to a more dynamic and richer conception of themselves as people, of their own personal leadership, and of their leadership within the school.

For example, one principle of the program is you cannot not influence. Whatever you do, or do not do, you have an influence not only on how you are perceived by others, but on what you stand for, what is permissible and what you support within an organisation.

Armed with that understanding and being equipped with a language of leadership around this principle, has fundamentally changed how staff act and approach their roles both within the school but also outside the school. As one staff member put it: “My relationships with the other staff members who attended the same program are stronger just from sharing this experience together.” “How is your leadership going?” seems to be the common opening sentence. The sharing of ‘successes’ and ‘things to do differently next time’ encourage and continue to educate us all.