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Leadership development refers to any activity that enhances the quality of leadership within an individual or organization. These activities have ranged from MBA style programs offered at university business schools to action learning, high-ropes courses and executive retreats.
Traditionally, leadership development has focused on developing the leadership abilities and attitudes of individuals.
Just as people are not all born with the ability or desire to play football (soccer) like Zinedine Zidane or sing like Luciano Pavarotti, people are not all born with the ability to lead. Different personal traits and characteristics can help or hinder a person's leadership effectiveness and require formalized programs for developing leadership competencies  Yet everyone can develop their leadership effectiveness. Achieving such development takes focus, practice and persistence more akin to learning a musical instrument than reading a book.
Classroom-style training and associated reading is effective in helping leaders to know more about what is involved in leading well. However, knowing what to do and doing what you know are two very different outcomes; management expert Henry Mintzberg is one person to highlight this dilemma. It is estimated that as little as 15% of learning from traditional classroom style training results in sustained behavioral change within the workplace.
The success of leadership development efforts has been linked to three variables:
Military officer training academies, such as the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, go to great lengths to only accept candidates who show the highest potential to lead well. Personal characteristics that are associated with successful leadership development include leader motivation to learn, a high achievement drive and personality traits such as openness to experience, an internal focus of control, and self-monitoring.
Development is also more likely to occur when the design of the development program:
Among key concepts in leadership development one may find:
A good personal leadership development program should enable you to develop a plan that helps you gain essential leadership skills required for roles across a wide spectrum from a youth environment to the corporate world.
More recently, organizations have come to understand that leadership can also be developed by strengthening the connection between, and alignment of, the efforts of individual leaders and the systems through which they influence organizational operations. This has led to a differentiation between leader development and leadership development. Quinn 's 1996 book of the same title.
Leadership development can build on the development of individuals (including followers) to become leaders. In addition, it also needs to focus on the interpersonal linkages between the individuals in the team.
In the belief that the most important resource that an organization possesses is the people that comprise the organization, some organizations address the development of these resources (even including the leadership).
In contrast, the concept of "Employeeship" recognizes that what it takes to be a good leader is not too dissimilar to what it takes to be a good employee. Therefore, bringing the notional leader together with the team to explore these similarities (rather than focusing on the differences) brings positive results. This approach has been particularly successful in Sweden where the power distance between manager and team is small.
The development of "high potentials" to effectively take over the current leadership when their time comes to exit their positions is known as succession planning. This type of leadership development usually requires the extensive transfer of an individual between departments. In many multinationals, it usually requires international transfer and experience to build a future leader. Succession planning requires a sharp focus on organization's future and vision, in order to align leadership development with the future the firm aspires to create. Thus successive leadership development is based not only on knowledge and history but also on a dream. For such a plan to be successful, a screening of future leadership should be based not only on "what we know and have" but also on "what we aspire to become". Persons involved in succession planning should be current leadership representing the vision and HR executives having to translate it all into a program. According to Meir Jacob and Amit Cohen (1995) three critical dimensions should be considered: 1. Skills and knowledge 2. Role perception and degree of acceptance of leading role 3. Self-efficacy (Albert Bandura). These three dimensions should be a basis of any leadership succession programme.