Leadership Development: Clone or Mold?


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What does a leader look like today?

It’s not easy to define. When I started out in leadership development, everyone wanted to clone Jack Welch from GE. “If we could just clone Jack and what his folks do at Crotonville, we would have strong leadership bench strength,” the predominant thinking went. In fact, going to Crotonville and seeing GE’s operations and methods was on every leadership development professional’s bucket list.

In the past 10-15 years:

  • Industries have become incredibly specialized niches, requiring highly specific knowledge and deep networks
  • Awareness of regional leadership differences has dawned on many global organizations
  • Authenticity has become more acceptable, even preferred, in leaders in many companies and regions
  • Business success has begun to demand ability to work across boundaries, often in culture-specific ways
  • Technology and globalization have combined to require the skills and knowledge to operate virtually

Today, leaders simply cannot be cloned or borrowed from other companies or industries. Organizations must develop their own leaders with skills and personal attributes that fit the company’s vision, mission, and values. In other words, leaders must be molded, not cloned.

Leadership Today

Today’s leaders:

  • Can dive into multiple parts of the organization with multi-disciplinary knowledge
  • Have strong cultural acumen and are able to adapt to different environments and cultures
  • Are asked to lead in a virtual world, which requires developing their ability to engage in meaningful virtual interactions with a variety of stakeholders, in and outside the organization

In days past, we would ask participants in a leadership course to identify someone with strong leadership skills. Common answers would include: Mother Teresa; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Mahatma Gandhi; and John F. Kennedy.

Today, asking this question is not as effective in identifying strong leaders. Today, some better questions might be:

  • Who in our company has strong leadership skills? (company-specific).
  • Would he or she be an effective leader in our Dubai or Pune offices? (cultural acumen)
  • How does this leader provide leadership in a virtual environment? (virtual leadership)
  • What knowledge of the various functions and disciplines in our organization does this person have? (multi-functional and multi-discipline knowledge)

These questions get more at the heart of molding leaders to be effective within a specific company, to develop cultural acumen (if needed), and to increase knowledge and skill in operating in a virtual and multi-functional environment.

Agent 007’s catch phrase was “shaken, not stirred.”

We’re thinking our own new catch phrase might be “molded, not cloned.” (Okay, that’s not nearly as cool. Let’s stick with what Bond said.)

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Michelle Del Rosario
Michelle works for Forum Corporation as a design consultant. She is responsible for providing insight, advice and learning design expertise to our clients and potential clients by working in close partnership with Sales and Delivery. Michelle also teaches leadership and human resources courses in the Graduate College of Professional Studies at Northeastern University.


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