High-impact managerial and leadership development

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In this article, Christo Nel, Program Director of International MBA and Executive MBA at Nyenrode Business Universiteit in the Netherlands, explains what skills, experience and support are necessary when moving into a leadership role.

It is generally agreed that talented individuals in middle managerial and specialist roles need to undergo continuous development to cope with the constant challenges of running an organization.

In the majority of instances, individuals initially have to fulfil the demands of technical and professional roles, such as marketing, finance, production and IT, which are driven by specific, defined tasks.

Surviving the transition into management

The greatest transitional challenge occurs when a professional moves from an early career stage into general managerial and executive roles. This is the period when the qualities that launched individuals in the first part of their career often contain the seeds of destruction for their next phase of growth.

At this time, there is a shift to more interpersonal- and leadership-focused demands. Any personal development process that addresses this challenge needs to fulfil a few key issues.

Finding one’s personal authentic leadership

The primary task for an individual is to uncover and focus on his or her personal authentic leadership.

Over the past two decades we see a shift away from "teaching" individuals the so-called best approach to leadership. Instead, the manner in which an individual approaches a particular situation may vary radically dependent upon their personal style, character and authenticity.

The great challenge for personal development is to enable each individual to leverage their own strengths whilst proving capable of drawing upon the strengths of others.

Avoiding derailment

Closely related to this challenge is the ability to identify and address derailment risks. Derailment occurs when an individual achieves a significantly lower level of development than what their potential suggests is possible.

Ironically, derailment poses a much greater risk for more talented individuals. By their very nature, professionals who are considered for advancement are "expected to run harder and faster" than those who remain focused on specialist and middle managerial roles.

Talented professionals are also more likely to be considered for career advancement precisely because they have demonstrated their ability to deliver a high performance at one stage of their career. But this is invariably based upon skills and attitudes that become increasingly redundant in the next phase of their careers.

Leading together

Sustainable high-performance leadership is a team activity. The complexities of leadership challenges are simply too great for any individual to handle.

As leaders progress, they must develop the ability to tap into the strengths and contributions of others. This increases the challenge of valuing diversity.

The practice of high impact leadership and teaming, and the ability to work with the (often conflicting) perspectives of peers, must become a priority for personal development.

Learning leadership

Only a limited amount of this development can be achieved within a classroom or academic environment. Such traditional approaches can serve as a valuable stimulus for peer-dialogue and reflection.

The vast majority of personal development in the later part of a person’s career can only take place within the real-life contexts of work and personal experience, and this requires a primary focus on work-based and action learning.

In particular, opportunities must be created where peers become a primary source of learning, feedback and even assessment.

Different leadership styles

Perhaps the single biggest challenge for sustainable personal development is recognising that every individual’s leadership style and character is irrevocably shaped by their own life journey.

Sustainable personal development must incorporate reflective processes in which individuals explore and extract leadership lessons that are uniquely based on their own life and experiences. This inevitably creates uncertainty and even mild anxiety that cannot be denied and should not be frowned upon.

Feeling comfortable with personal growth

Instead, the primary challenge of ongoing personal development is the ability of leadership program designers, facilitators and participants to come to terms with the anxiety of personal growth, and to embrace it as a creative force rather than something to be rejected or ignored.

Christo Nel is the Program Director of the International MBA and the Executive MBA at Nyenrode Business Universiteit.

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Christo Nel


Christo Nel

Christo Nel is the Program Director of International MBA and Executive MBA at Nyenrode Business Universiteit in the Netherlands. Christo Nel is a previous head of the Centre for Leadership...

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