Chapter 2 Leadership Development: A Puzzle or A Problem? – No Cape Required


Leadership Development:
A Puzzle or A Problem?

Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.

—Dwight Eisenhower

A puzzle typically has a single answer; a problem has many possible solutions. So, do we see leadership and leadership development as a puzzle or a problem? If we see leadership as a puzzle, we’ll develop people who meet the needs of a single problem. We may think we’re being diverse, saying things like “Look, this puzzle has some straight-edge pieces and some middle pieces. Maybe we’ll even put some quirky pieces in there too, just to mix things up a bit.”

However you mix it up, a puzzle is still a puzzle. It has a right and a wrong answer. The pieces fit in their “right” places. Or they don’t. It’s a paradigm based on a “right/wrong” view of the world—fine for jigsaw puzzles, less so for organizational development.

Today’s leadership and its development need a different worldview because we’re living in a different era. This chapter looks at the new paradigm of leadership development to meet the challenges of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) World.

Introducing VUCA World

Today’s leadership needs are more complex. There’s the need for speed of response and flexibility, to deal with volatility; good decision making, based on reliable evidence, to deal with uncertainty; agility, to deal with the ever-present change; and parallel thinking; to deal with ambiguity. And yet it’s more than that.

The good news is that no single leader needs to have all these qualities in abundance. The challenge is for leaders to discover the strengths and talents in the people around them and catalyze and develop their collective ability to deal with VUCA World. As Eisenhower said, “Getting someone else to get what you want done because they want to do it.” This isn’t manipulation; it’s using the diverse strengths and talents of everyone in the team. Because people derive pleasure and fulfillment from working to their strengths; they want to use them. And because, in today’s world there’s no “correct” way of doing something; we need to identify and apply different approaches. This is important because, as one of our clients put it, “Our organisation needs to develop a learning mentality faster than the speed of change in our business environment” (CEO, Global Engineering Firm).

Many organizations create a set of capabilities or competences around leadership that start from a presumption of a single style of leadership: the one-size-fits-all approach. Yet we know that VUCA World is multifaceted. One person, one leadership style, is no longer tenable. We all need to flex. If your organization holds up certain people as role models, often those at the senior level, and consciously or otherwise, your learning and development team will create a cadre of leaders who fit in that mold.

Developing stereotypes when a range of styles is needed is like trying to stay rigid in a strong wind, when flexibility is the better response. Situations are no longer predictable, and because leadership is context specific, the need to develop flexible leadership styles, to suit different situations, is vital.

Different parts of an organization may require different styles of leadership. The nature of the role being managed will vary depending on whether it is a group of salespeople or a group of analysts or a group of creative thinkers. People will respond differently and have different needs to motivate and inspire them. This demands different leadership styles in those departments, and at different times.

Then, when we look at the evolution of an organization, the leadership style needed will vary.

The Dangers of Reverting to the Norm

I worked in one organization that had a new leadership team take over in a crisis: a classic turnaround situation where tight control and clear direction was needed. Over a period of about 2 to 3 years, the leadership team was very successful; the organization was performing well but was now constrained by that command-and-control style. To the credit of the leadership team, they saw this and tried to make change happen.

However, they were so used to managing in a particular way that they found it hard to shift. When they removed some of the controls, the minute something went wrong, their immediate reaction was to assume they’d made a mistake. As well as having no culture for living with the reality of the occasional “failure,” they had no flexibility to adapt when things weren’t going well. So they reimposed the controls back to the “right/wrong” puzzle mindset. They made key mistakes in their assumptions.

First, they assumed that people in the organization would immediately be able to switch away from the conforming style to which they had adapted as a response to the command-and-control leadership style. That would take time; it needed training. People needed to try it for themselves—be allowed to make mistakes and be trusted to fix them, before it became a reality. One leader even issued a diktat that there would be “no more command and control.” He missed the irony there.

The second mistake the team made was to assume that they themselves could easily switch styles from commanding, to a more laissez-faire approach. If we habitually use only one leadership style, we may find it harder to switch and flex. One approach may be to switch the leadership team out. Yes, leaders can adapt from their default style and shift to managing and leading a very different way. However, that takes time, training and experience, and in this case, none of that was in place.

Another approach is to support people, one to one, during the transition phase. Coaching and mentoring are the two obvious solutions, and more of this later. Another supportive approach in this phase is Peer Action Learning (PAL), initially supported by a team coach, shifting to self-managed peer learning, once the teething problems are ironed out.

The Needed Paradigm Shift

Regardless of the eventual solutions, the paradigm shift is still needed:

  • A conscious shift, away from traditional leadership styles
  • Attitudinal shifts, away from a focus on “the” leader toward developing others and oneself: toward a leadership culture
  • For the consistent application of a combination of the following competencies: intellectual intelligence, emotional intelligence, and managerial intelligence (IQ, EQ, and MQ)

For this paradigm shift to be enduring and inclusive, today’s leadership needs to shift its focus—to “pan out” from a narrow focus on performance, from solely what it achieves, to a bigger notion of purpose. A sense of purpose not only encompasses successful delivery but also includes the “why,” or values-based performance, and the “who,” or the individual values, character, and behavior of leaders and managers. This is character-based leadership that consciously models the ideal of success, which includes everyone’s strengths and contributions, based on values and targeted toward success.

The Evidence Base for This Shift

Applied emotional intelligence, for individuals and groups, comes from the key scholarship of the following people:

  • Howard Gardner,1 who first set out the notion of multiple intelligences;
  • Daniel Goleman,2 who built on Gardner’s work and researched the evidence for applied emotional intelligence (EQ) in leaders;
  • Dulwicz and Higgs,3 who show how organizations can be more effective when EQ competences are embedded in organizational cultures.

This scholarship has led to the development of emotionally resonant leadership styles, which in some contexts can replace traditional commanding and pacesetting styles. It has also led to the recognition that it is a combination of competences that create better leadership and higher-performing organizations: traditional IQ, MQ, and EQ.

Traditional leadership styles tend to focus on the leader setting his/her direction and energy typically “commanding” or “pacesetting” in the Goleman et al.4 terminology. The challenge with the commanding style is that it relies on orders flowing in one direction (from top to bottom)—useful in planning; great in emergency situations. However, overuse results in a dependent workforce and a leader/deputy leader structure.

Team members—who in today’s world expect their contribution to be made, listened to, and responded to—become frustrated in structures that don’t take their expertise, education, and strengths into account. It makes no sense to develop frustrated and dependent teams.

The pacesetting style may have its merits in providing effort and energy to get new projects off the ground. The challenge here is that in a world heavily reliant on the expertise of knowledge workers—as distinct from “widget makers”—predictability is no longer a given. There is also the danger of burnout if this style is used extensively.

VUCA World: The Key Leadership Challenges

The key leadership challenges of the 21st-century workforce include volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). Look around: we’re experiencing VUCA World right now. The #MeToo, #NeverAgain, #BlackLivesMatter, #BBCtransparency (equal pay), and other campaigns are all examples of people at the edges, using whatever influence they have to make change.

Each of these volatile forces contributes to unpredictability, so leadership has to orientate itself around those factors and no longer assume that a predictable pace can be set when factors change so rapidly. The most expensive examples of trying to force out-of-date thinking through pacesetting leadership are in the world of IT projects.

The Impact of Using Out-of-Date Thinking in a VUCA World

In the United Kingdom, it’s estimated that the government lost £10 billion on the National Health Service IT project alone.5 In the United States,6 it’s estimated that the Department of Defense has lost over four times as much money to canceled projects as the $20 billion lost by NASA in research and development programs.

It’s unlikely that these countries are alone in their experiences, and these occurred, in part, because people in positions of authority applied rigid planning methodologies to transformational technologies. By contrast, products such as “Skype,” one of the world’s most downloaded software, have been developed more organically, where the actual product and customer base emerge from the interests of its developers. In the case of Skype, 5 people—2 Swedes and 3 Estonians—were the founding team.

Methods such as “Agile” and “Scrum” have arisen in the place of a top–down, pacesetting leadership style, summed up by statements such as “Build projects around motivated individuals,” “Give them the environment and support they need,” and “Trust them to get the job done.”7 We’re not saying “agile” is the only solution; what we are saying is that team needs are different in different programs and projects, and leadership approaches need to be different too.

Einstein said, “Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Leadership may be complex. There may not be a single solution. Teams may have to adapt different working methods to address their environment. And this requires leaders, managers, and supervisors to appreciate that they need a range of responses and ways of working with their team members.

The Leadership Routemap™: Styles Plus Behaviors

Having a portfolio of leadership styles to call upon addresses the need to be more flexible in a complex and unpredictable world. EQ competencies underpin these styles and can be measured at individual and group levels. The work of Harold Schroder8 and his team at Princeton University provided a clear high-performance framework that describes, and can identify, high-performing management and leadership competencies.

Four clusters summarize the competences: thinking, involving, inspiring, and achieving, “based on factorial studies of competency ratings for a number of managers.”9

However, Professor Schroder makes clear that excellence does not rely on an individual alone: “Excellence is optimizing the range of competency contributions in a workgroup.” This combination of high-performing behaviors and applied emotional intelligence supports team building, better performance, and interdepartmental collaboration. We know that these leadership attitudes and behaviors work to deliver better leadership. Yet what is practiced is often a result of what today’s leaders experienced in their development—the role models they had around them and how they behaved.

This combination of leadership styles (Goleman et al. defined six styles) plus high-performance behaviors (Schroder et al. defined 11 styles needed in the VUCA World) can create a “where do I start?” feeling. The good news is that you’ve done your homework following Chapter 1 and you know where you want to get to.

A client recently had one of those light bulb moments when we explained this methodology to them. They had good technical experts in their teams, but these people were still applying old approaches to generating income and value from their products and services. What our discussion helped them identify was a particular cluster of behaviors consistently missing in their leaders. This meant that the leadership development program had a natural starting place while continuing to value the existing team skills and strengths. The other good news is that when researching this book and applying what we learned in the world of work, we created the Leadership Routemap™ to map out this journey.

The beauty of a route map, and of seeing leadership development as a journey, is that people don’t need to fit into a mold. Rather, questions are asked of them like the following:

  • What leadership skills and behaviors do you already have?
  • What leadership needs does your team have or this organization need?
  • What are your development needs as a result?

Because before we start on a leadership journey, we may know where we’re going, now we need to know where our gaps are and who’s coming with us.

The Definition Gap: Abundant Leadership

So far, we’ve been describing “leaders” as those people at the top end of organizations, typically in positions of power. There’s also a definition gap in defining what we mean by “leadership.” It’s not necessarily about position or power.

  • Abundant leadership is based on the success and development of the whole team.
  • Team success supports organization success, which, in turn, contributes to a more successful society.
  • It’s about influence more than power.

Where positional power was predicated on the value of budgets controlled, the number of people reporting, or the number of departments or offices under the leader’s control, today’s leadership is about how well a leader enables others to be successful and unlock their potential.

The authors’ vision is for a world of work that grows leadership and supports a new type of leader:

People who role model authentic leadership, which springs from their values, who have a sense of vision and purpose.

People who take ownership and responsibility; who engage others, who listen and share a spirit of innovation and enquiry.

People who lead; not because it’s in their job title, because they take ownership, contribute and deliver more.

This new type of leadership is one that makes the world of work a more fulfilled and effective experience.

—The Forton Group Ltd

In this definition, what makes a role a leadership role is the assumption of responsibility—stepping forward and driving decisions and actions, and being accountable to the team and the wider organization for their successful application. Yet, this points to two key barriers in the dominant paradigm of the hero myth: individual ego and the perceived threat to it from others.

In studies, people are, in theory, open to others and welcome their intelligence, but when theory shifts to real situations—such as meeting people in real life—they prefer being with people less intelligent than themselves. For example:

Six studies revealed that when evaluating psychologically distant targets, men showed greater attraction toward women who displayed more (vs. less) intelligence than themselves.

In contrast, when targets were psychologically near, men showed less attraction toward women who outsmarted them.10

These studies focused on personal relationships, but in the close working proximity of many organizations, it’s easy to see how these behaviors might create unconscious bias in selecting the type of people that a leader might surround themselves with.

The second barrier is fear—the perceived threat of stepping out of line; being made to look foolish; or doing things differently. If the status quo rewards fitting in, going with the majority, or improving what already exists, then paradigm shifts won’t happen. Supporting people to take calculated risks needs to be a key element of leadership development—to look at situations with fresh eyes and do things differently, even to fail.

There are leadership models that separate “technical” leadership from “project” leadership, or “people” leadership from “general” leadership. So those who feel more comfortable developing their technical expertise and less comfortable leading teams of people can do so, safe in the knowledge that they have a defined career pathway. It’s still part of the wider abundant leadership pool. However, for some people, technology leaves them no choice. To paraphrase Shakespeare, leadership is being thrust upon them.

A client runs a technology lab where new technology has introduced laser systems for patient devices—a huge investment in technology, saving future space costs as well as speeding up the service. However, one challenge it posed that no one foresaw: lab technicians aren’t always comfortable dealing directly with end users of the devices they make. They choose lab work so they don’t have to interact. These are often the kinds of technical people we need to take on a leadership development journey. Knowing their working preferences and creating a development route map for them will impact on the leadership development program you eventually deliver and support.

New Definitions of Leadership

Every team member should develop their leadership qualities and apply them to their role. This is abundance. It’s a behavioral model of leadership: a skill set that can be developed by anyone who is willing to learn and apply the skills.

Leadership behaviors are based on a foundation of self-awareness, of willingness to shift attitudes and grow skills. While traditional organizations separate out their communications departments or their learning and development, in VUCA World, every manager or leader needs to develop high-level communication skills and be equipped to support team learning and development. High-quality communication skills are an essential piece of the manager’s toolkit in a VUCA World. It’s just one example of the skills people need to develop—at any stage in their career.

An inclusive leader is an engaging leader: willing to engage not just in performance and delivery (the “what”), but in systems improvements (the “how”) and personal, and people, development (the “who”) as well. To make abundant leadership achievable, we look at it in four ways:

  1. 1.Leaders as people in responsible positions
  2. 2.Team leaders distributing leadership
  3. 3.Individuals contributing to leadership
  4. 4.Leadership as engagement with society

People who have chosen technical leadership need to understand their governance responsibilities and demonstrate competence and trustworthiness. Using communication skills as an example, they need to communicate well to share their knowledge and embed it within the organization.

In the case of lab technicians, it’s vital that they develop good people skills to inform and reassure people, particularly hospital technicians working with vulnerable patients, where remarkable stories about creative solutions to help reassure people are emerging.

Project management calls for a more distributive leadership approach: where technical experts within the project are invited to contribute their expertise and encouraged to step forward with solutions and new possibilities. However, this form of leadership still relies on the person at the top “distributing” or bestowing leadership on the team. It requires a high level of transparency and role definition—or at least a definition of what “distributive leadership” means within any given context.

“Choosing partnership over patriarchy” is how Peter Block11 described it in his seminal work on “Stewardship.” When the approach to leadership is turned upside and team members are invited to contribute from a position of their strengths, talents, and experience (as distinct from having leadership distributed down to them), a more enabling or inclusive model is achieved. This method requires an understanding of every team member’s contribution and the expectation of visible leadership: that all team members will contribute, speak up, and speak out.

Many organizations are already showing greater leadership in society through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. Offering coaching, mentoring, and educational support schemes are typical examples. Providing work experience, internships, and work shadowing are all ways to raise peoples’ aspirations, to support people returning to work, or to change careers in midlife. Beyond this application of leadership in specific contexts, there are consistent and measurable ways to develop inclusive leadership.

Inclusive leader profiling draws on Harold Schroder’s work on high-performance behaviors, on diverse qualities, experience, and strengths. Not relying on “expert leaders,” inclusive leadership is also emotionally intelligent.12 We can develop leaders who create better working environments through influence and relationships, not power.

In essence, leadership is a series of visible, measurable behaviors, driven by invisible impulses: internal conscious and subconscious thoughts, attitudes, and feelings, which can be accessed only through self-awareness, reflection, and insight. If we are to make inclusive, abundant leadership a reality, then both visible behaviors and invisible impulses need to be addressed and developed.

To paraphrase Einstein, the challenge is not to overcomplicate or oversimplify leadership development. The challenge is that the further from the central idea one goes, the more complicated things become. The risk is that inclusive leadership development becomes so overcomplicated and the definitions so refined that people use complexity as a reason to not take action.

The Key Leadership Development Question

The question in developmental terms is, What support does a person need to become a more inclusive, engaging leader? While we may live in a complex world, the solution to handling complexity is not always more complexity. Additionally, when we create an environment of inclusive leadership around us, we create more resources to tap into: more potential answers and possibilities, not just in the people around us, but in the wider range of internal and external, visible and invisible resources available to us as well.

Leadership behaviors can be developed. They are not the preserve of the older people, the well educated, or the wealthy. They can be made easily available through our digitally connected world. Thanks to the power of the Internet, we can hold live video conversations across the world, or tap into self-paced learning resources at a place and time most convenient to ourselves.

This approach (known as “blended learning”) means that the cost of leadership development can fall dramatically, putting it within everyone’s reach. But there’s no one single solution to the “puzzle”; the VUCA World is a series of problems with many solutions.

Voltaire said that “perfect is the enemy of the good,” and it sums up the paradigm of the “correct” answer to a puzzle, on one hand, and the “best viable solution,” on the other. If there’s a model for an inclusive leader, it’s the combination of intellectual intelligence, emotional intelligence, and management intelligence. Someone willing to switch attitudes away from the 20th-century leadership behaviors to embrace inclusivity is

  • Willing to explore their own attitudes and feelings
  • Willing to appreciate others’ value: their strengths, motivations, values, and contributions

The people you’ll want to take with you on this development journey will demonstrate potential, not just a past track record. Their communication styles will orient toward listening rather than talking, and asking rather than telling. They will judge, and be judged, on observed high-performing behaviors rather than “flavor of the month” leadership fads. They will take employee engagement seriously and turn plans into actions to benefit team spirit and the bottom line.

You may not be wholly certain that everyone will complete this journey. And while some people may have natural strengths among this skill set, these are developable skills. Today’s technologies mean that development activities are more affordable for organizations that recognize the need for a journey through the VUCA World.

This is not a proposal for a “one-size-fits-all” model of leadership. Rather, this is a proposal for a process of leadership development that starts with the organization’s needs and assumes that many untapped resources already exist within it. Tapping into these resources requires four key steps:

  1. 1.Defining the leadership need—through consultation and research (covered in Chapter 1)
  2. 2.Discovering the existing talent—regardless of age, gender, or culture
  3. 3.Developing people to meet the need
  4. 4.Deploying people while supporting them to deliver on their leadership potential

We’ll cover points 3 and 4 in later chapters.

This notion of abundant, inclusive, and engaging leadership is not just a rationale for bringing more women into the boardroom, opening up to a more culturally diverse leadership team, or supporting young people to develop their talent. It’s not just about improved performance or better results. It’s a rational step with an ethical and moral base.

It makes sense to deploy and develop the most talented people in the team, regardless of their culture, gender, or age.

Worksheet: Stimulus Questions

We introduce the puzzle and problem paradigms, focusing on the new paradigm of leadership development, to meet the challenges of the VUCA World. The key challenge is to understand what the VUCA World looks like in your context so that you can apply the best leadership development solutions. These questions focus on the “PESTLE” (political, economic, social, technological, legal, environmental) analysis tool (Figure 2.1).

Figure 2.1 VUCA world stimulus questions

Source: The Forton Group.

Please note: This is not to create a checklist of topics to address in leadership development programs; it’s to help you see the VUCA World you’re living and working in. The leadership development challenge is to find ways to live comfortably and flexibly in a VUCA World as it is.

Once you’ve answered the individual questions, sum up what your VUCA World looks like in a couple of sentences. And if your reflections have identified cultural or leadership gaps, summarize those too.


1.For example, H. Gardner. 1983. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (New York, NY: Basic Books).

2.D. Goleman. 1995. Emotional Intelligence (New York, NY: Bantam Books).

3.V. Dulewicz and M. Higgs. 2000. “Emotional Intelligence—A Review and Evaluation Study,” Journal of Managerial Psychology 15, no. 4, pp. 341–72.

4.See D. Goleman, R. Boyatzis, and A. McKee. 2002. The New Leaders: Transforming the Art of Leadership into the Science of Results (London, UK: Little Brown). (AKA “Primal Leadership in the US”), where the six styles are: “Commanding, Pacesetting, Democratic, Coaching, Visionary and Affiliative.”

5.R. Syal. 2013. “Abandoned NHS IT System has Cost £10bn So Far,”, (accessed April 4, 2018).

6.E. Elert. 2012. “NASA has Spent $20 Billion on Canceled Projects [Infographic],”, (accessed April 27, 2016).

7.K. Beck, M. Beedle, V. van Bennekum et al. 2001. “Principles of the ‘Agile Manifesto.’”, (accessed April 16, 2018).

8.H.M. Schroder. 1989. Managerial Competence: The Key to Excellence (Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt).

9.Ibid, p.78.

10.L.E. Park, A.F. Young, and P.W. Eastwick. November 2015. “(Psychological) Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: Effects of Psychological Distance and Relative Intelligence on Men’s Attraction to Women,” Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin 41, no. 11, pp. 1459–1473.

11.P. Block. [1996] 2013. Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self Interest, 2nd ed (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler).

12.D. Goleman. 1995. Emotional Intelligence, op.cit.