Learning to Lead – Learning Lifelong

How’s this for a stark fact? Citigroup’s investment bank head recently said the bank was likely to shed half its 20,000 technology and operations staff in the next five years. Why? Automation, of course. Yet another example of machines in the workplace replacing humans in the workplace.

Which raises this question. Can leaders change with the changing times? Can leaders stay nimble enough, elastic enough, fluid and flexible enough to stay ahead of the curve – a curve that will become more treacherous as artificial intelligence supplants (or expands on) automation as the single greatest challenge to employers as well as their employees.

In Bad Leadership (Harvard Business Press, 2004) I wrote about seven different types of bad leadership, one of which was Rigid. I described Rigid Leadership as follows: The leader and at least some followers are stiff and unyielding. Although they may be competent, they are unable or unwilling to adapt to new ideas, new information, or changing times. Rigid leaders are, then, nothing new. But the context within which all leaders inevitably are operating is new. It is more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) in the present than it was in the past. Therefore, the need for leaders to be other than rigid – to be the converse of rigid – is the more urgent.

Let’s say you’re leader – how to remain at the top of your game? How to continue to be nimble as opposed to getting stuck? The answer is to think of learning to lead as learning in three parts. The first is leadership education. The second is leadership training. The third is leadership development.*

Leadership development is analogous to adult development. It suggests change and growth that takes place over a lifetime. It suggests that talent and competence and ability are not fixed – instead they can be adapted and expanded as the occasion arises, so long as we are open not closed. Doctors and lawyers, professionals generally, must continue to learn, to develop, if they are to continue to work. Why should leaders be any different?


*For more on this all-important triad, see my book, Professionalizing Leadership (Oxford University Press, 2018).



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