Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic on six data-driven lessons in leadership

Last year, U.S. companies spent about $20-BILLION on leadership development programs that involve earning business degrees, onsite classrooms and workshops, and self-directed instruction. The meager ROI is in large measure explained by what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny if custom.” Sour old wine in new bottles still tastes like old wine.

In Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (and how to fix it), Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic identifies and discusses six data-driven lessons in leadership. He observes, “Going from leadership incompetence to leadership competence is not easy, but compelling evidence attests to the efficacy of well-designed, albeit rare, leadership development programs. So some programs do work.”

Here are the lessons revealed by recent scientific research, each accompanied by brief comments of mine:

1. Some characteristics are hard to change
Characteristics define habits and Warren Buffett reminds us, “Chains of habits are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

2. Good coaching works
I agree but only if the recipient is coachable. Lakota tribal wisdom advises against feeding hay to a dead horse.

3. Beware of leaders’ strengths
Marshall Goldsmith’s comment “What got you here won’t get you there” has a corollary: “What got you here won’t even allow you to remain here.” That’s true of individuals as well as of organizations.

4. Self-awareness is essential
I agree but suggest that it is without value unless acted upon in a beneficial way.

5. It is not easy to go against our nature
Again I agree but don’t confuse nature with expedience.

6. Coachability is an integral part of potential
Darrell Royal reminds us that “potential” means “you ain’t done it yet.”

Chamorro-Premuzic thoroughly discusses each of these lessons in Chapter 8, Pages 149-161.

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Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is the Chief Talent Scientist at ManpowerGroup, a professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, and an associate at Harvard’s Entrepreneurial Finance Lab. To learn more about him and his work, please click here.

Why Do So Many Incomotent Men Become Leaders? (and how to fix it) was published by Harvard Business Review Press (March 2019).

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