Leadership: is that process in which one person sets the purpose or direction for one or more other persons, and gets then to move along together with him / her and with each other in that direction with competence and commitment. Elliott Jaques 1994


Sitting in a room with five internal Human Resources Consultants (HRC) and two organization development consultants (OD), internal to a Health Maintenance Organization HMO, discussing their internal leadership development program.

We have identified a need to increase our employee engagement. Looking over our latest organizational assessment data, it has indicated that 67% of employees feel we have a leadership deficit.”

“I have been saying for years that we focus too much on management and not enough on leadership here!”

“We need to instill and teach our people to be leaders. Mike, that is why we called you here.”

Sitting, slightly sweating, I asked, “Your assessment data is useful, and what would you see people doing if we had a leadership surplus?”

They spun long-winded and appropriate answers. It all sounded rehearsed or from a textbook.

I walked to the whiteboard and wrote.


They fell silent. One internal organization development staffer said, “Well, that is silly. Of course, you can teach leadership. I’ve been doing it for years.”

Then, Human Resources responded, “OK, and I think we should discuss the question…What would we do differently if we couldn’t teach leadership AND still had these same organizational assessment results?”

The question changed our entire approach.

Think about it – REALLY – think about it…what if teaching leadership did not exist. Take away your degrees, books, lectures, power points, etc.

It would require More Than Words. More than words to show you feel that your [leadership] is real ( who doesn’t love a Mr. Big Reference? )

It forced us to stop talking about

Transformational servants who walked around in less than a minute practicing 7 habits eating chicken soup while modeling the way from good to great constantly doing the right things.

  • Forcing us to look at the actual work, the organizational structure, and what the people need from the company to do their best work.
  • Looking at what the company needs from people to get the work done.
  • Defining what attracts or repels trusting relationships within the company and with our customers, vendors, and community stakeholders.
  • Changing what we look for in promoting people, instead of looking for Leadership Potential, which was defined by personality profiles and a list of behaviors. We looked for competency and the ability to handle more complex task assignments + use observed examples of their work to determine their level of work.
  • Moving the development and training to use existing managers,  creating a coaching and managerial judgment process.

Changing the questions changed our perspective – it can change yours also.

What do you think?

If the ability to teach Leadership did not exist, what would we do differently? Better?

  • In what way would training and development be different? Better?
  • How would this change your perception of people and your manager while at work?
  • What would you see that indicates that this person was showing leadership?