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Leadership Development – Touch or Tackle?

Touch or Tackle

I think at times leadership and leadership development can be a lot of tiptoeing through the tulips. The thousands of books and popular notions of “leadership” are by most accounts slanted toward the positive. However, the activity is most often filled with any number of stressors – issues conflicts, interpersonal conflicts, anticipatory stress, ethical challenges, etc. In fact, sometimes people are physically hurt or even killed because of their beliefs. Let’s face it: leadership is not always a safe activity.

Most (if not all) leadership development programming operates under the implicit rule of “keep it safe.” By this, I mean we are often overly concerned with creating a safe learning environment – there is an unwritten rule that we would not want to make others feel uncomfortable, uneasy or disconfirmed in the process. Of course this rule shows up in the design and delivery of the learning interventions as well. Throughout the process, everyone is nice, cordial and often avoids the difficult conversations that could emerge.

In all reality though, this approach is like training a high school football team for the season by only practicing “touch” when in fact, the game is “tackle.” So do we train our participants to play “touch” or “tackle”? It’s great if people can lead when everyone is pleasant, controlled and safe. However, this assumption is not aligned with the realities of the real world – Just ask Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, Daniel Akerson and Angela Merkel. Leadership is difficult, messy and oftentimes a contact sport.

Of course the current approach is not all bad and generally speaking, I am all for a safe learning environment. I’m just not sure we are providing the whole picture and we may be doing our participants a disservice in the process.

About the author

Scott J. Allen Ph.D.

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Posted in Culture + Sports, General Leadership.