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Leadership Advisors

by  Mike Myatt  |  Leadership Development

Note: This post originally appeared on the N2Growth blog May 18 with the title The Leadership Vacuum, but we need to keep the dialogue going.

The biggest problem with the leadership industry is found within the ranks of those who call themselves leadership advisors. There is nothing short of a voluminous amount of leadership information being published on a daily basis. The number of books, blogs, tweets, videos, webcasts, podcasts, etc., being pushed into the market is reaching truly overwhelming proportions. It’s been my experience that regardless of the subject, it is precisely when the noise becomes the loudest, that it’s most difficult for the consumer to extract quality and value from the market. The text that follows is meant as both a rebuke of my industry, and a challenge to my fellow practitioners…It is my hope that this post stimulates vigorous discussion, and a great deal of thought on how we evolve the practice & discipline of leadership, not for our own glory, but for the good of our clients and society as a whole.

Before I go any further, today’s rant should not be construed as a call for elitism, but rather a call for authenticity, innovation and professionalism. As leadership advisors and coaches we counsel our clients on the need for change and innovation, but have we become the proverbial shoe maker without shoes? We ask our clients ”why should anyone be led by you?” but a better question might be “why should anyone be advised by us?” When was the last time you read something new, groundbreaking, or significant with regard to the practice and discipline of leadership? Is it because everything valuable in regard to leadership has already been discovered? I think not…rather I believe that many among us are sadly lacking the innovative approach to our practice that we so consistently demand from our clients.

Our world is suffering greatly due to lack of leadership.

I believe our world is suffering greatly due to a lack of leadership. Examine any of the major problems of our time and you’ll quickly and clearly see a lack of leadership at the root of the issue. In fact, if you listen carefully you’ll readily hear a loud sucking sound that I refer to as the leadership vacuum. With all of us pushing leadership advice and counsel, why is it that our leaders are failing at such alarming rates? Are we as an industry fulfilling the mission of developing great leaders capable of handling great challenges and accomplishing great things, or are the majority of those entering our ranks just here to make a quick buck?

I would venture to say that there are literally tens of thousands of consultants and coaches who bill themselves as leadership subject matter experts. If you Google ”leadership development” more than 4 million search results are returned.  How many of these practitioners are qualified? Who are the real leadership thought leaders? Spare me the slick info-product sales people, and give me authentic, professional practitioners of the art and science of leadership.

Why should anyone be advised by us?

I have long believed in eating my own cooking. I simply don’t proffer what I don’t practice. I can’t help clients lead change if my business model is antiquated or static. It is simply not possible to develop leaders if you’re not one yourself. Let’s not create more trumped-up professional credentials to make unqualified practitioners feel better about themselves, but let’s focus on the real issue…being better practitioners of our craft, and delivering real value through actionable advice rendered to our clients.

I’m not interested in more tired rhetoric, but I am sincerely interested in welcoming dialogue with anyone passionate about the profession of leadership. Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

How can we bring authenticity, innovation and professionalism to the leadership development profession?

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

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What People Are Saying

John E. Smith  |  16 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Hi, Mike – interesting post.

My initial reaction: “Ouch!” You hit awfully close to home, since I am one of those thousands of folks pouring information into the ether.

You mention the “art and science” of leadership and I believe that part of our problem lies with a lack of awareness of the need for both sides of that dichotomy.

The Science:
Leaders who do not learn about current thinking in terms of leadership and management development are shorting themselves. Depending on a few remembered phrases or lessons from a course long since gone or, even worse, using the way you were led without filter as your model are guaranteed to produce more of what we already have and that does not cut it in today’s world.

A wealth of valid research does exist and we owe it to ourselves to stay up to date. If we can keep up with our favorite team’s line-up and standing, we can do this as well.

The Art:
Leaders who do not understand the non-technical part of leadership will often find themselves applying a leadership model, strategy, or technique . . . and then wondering why they are not getting the results they desire. I am not advocating that leaders are born, because I deeply believe leadership can be taught, but this is not about buying the latest book, memorizing a cute acronym, and trotting out a process or structure for all to admire.

Being able to read, respond, and effectively influence others requires self-knowledge and an ability to sense the unspoken. We can all improve our ability to do so, but we have to first know that this need exists and then be wiling to move on it. Not as easy as just telling people what to do and reacting to how well they do it, but infinitely more rewarding, in my opinion.

Upon rereading all this, I have done a poor job of making my points, but I do look forward to what others have to offer to this discussion.

John

Mike Myatt  |  16 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Hi John:

Thanks for your observations. I believe your points were clear and well thought out. I didn’t mean to hit too close to home, as I too produce a great deal of content. That said, my thoughts were meant not only as a challenge to others, but also to myself to make sure that the content we’re creating is not just a rehashing of outdated theory, and not just for the purposes of making a buck.

Is our content valuable, credible, innovative, original, actionable, and serving a purpose other than just adding to the noise? Are we developing the practice of leadership and in the process helping to mold better leaders, or are we just pushing more hype into the market to expand a revenue stream?

My feeling is that those simply trying to build a business are the ones missing the larger opportunity of creating an impact and a legacy. Those that contribute to the latter will achieve the former, but I don’t believe the inverse to be true.

Thanks again for adding to the conversation John…

davidburkus  |  16 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Great points Mike. At the risk of claiming this sermon is perfect for someone else and not internalizing, I think you’re dead on. There is a plethora of “leadership” noise out there right now and the bulk of it as actually self-help or personal development literature posing as leadership literature because that a positive euphemism of the week.

Mike Myatt  |  16 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Hi David:

I agree – much of what I see masquerading as leadership content is truly spun-up personal development and self-help material. It’s sad that the marketplace isn’t always sophisticated enough to distinguish between the two, and even when they are that they succumb to the marketing hype. Thanks for your candid comment David.

Irma Givens  |  16 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Hi Mike,

Thanks for that jolt! We all must take inventory of where we are and in which direction we are headed as an industry. The largest room in my house is the room for improvement. We have to constantly improve.

Working to improve,
Irma

Mike Myatt  |  17 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Love this: “The largest room in my house is the room for improvement.” Thanks Irma…

David Weale  |  17 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Thanks for this post, Mike. I agree it’s crowded out there! As a new entrant to the ‘leadership advisor” field (from industry to academia & consulting), I must say it’s initially overwhelming, then it’s quite frustrating, and right now I’m at the point where it’s actually totally confusing!

It would be so much easier if people would clearly identify their position and reasons for blogging, etc (maybe on this site, we could do that even). In doing this, I’m not saying anyone should ‘ignore’ anyone else. It’s just that then there are categories and more clarity.

I think the problem is firstly that not too many are looking for a niche. It’s all so generalized and lots of the content just echoes itself all over the place. Secondly, so much of it (as David says above) is self-help content. Some lists of advice are good, but most are basically waffle. In a book store, I think only 10-20% of the web leadership content would find itself in the leadership section!

On the subject of the lack of groundbreaking stuff, I do actually see a shift developing, but it’s slow. I think that it responds to the times. From the 50’s to the 80’s hardly anything happened until the “Transformational Leadership” concept – and that was in response to things getting much more dynamic around that time. Shared leadership concepts came about due to an increasing need for innovation and the authentic concept is very much a response to the turmoil brought about by disappointments and a universal need for leaders to make positive impacts on the world.

But maybe there is a shift occurring, and maybe all this blogging is a symptom. It’s just a theory I’m throwing out, but aren’t many of us saying that anyone can be a leader wherever they are? Are we not looking for leadership ‘acts’ at every level of organizations now?

I am totally with you when you say that you “believe our world is suffering greatly due to a lack of leadership.”. It’s serious. But perhaps what’s happening is that people are making attempts to respond but because of a lack of leadership knowledge they’re grasping at stuff – hence the leadership self-help…

Just thinking out loud.

Mike Myatt  |  17 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Hi David:

This is a great forum for thinking out loud, and thank you for doing so.

I’m rooting for you to succeed as you enter this field. I don’t really view anyone in the leadership field as a competitor, but rather as a peer and/or colleague. There is plenty of market demand, and plenty of need for forward thinking professionals looking to make a difference.

You bring up an interesting question as a new entrant into the leadership advisor space – how does one go about establishing their practice amongst all the noise? In talking with others who have been at this a while, we are mostly in agreement that there are too many qualified advisors struggling while too many who lack depth, but happen to be savvy marketers seem to be prospering. While this inverted relationship tends to give the industry a bit of a black-eye in the near-term, the good news is that it also serves as a macro-economic warning sign that a weeding-out process is looming in the future.

While we’re waiting for the needed consolidation mentioned above to occur, it’s worth noting that the problem isn’t with a lack of accessible knowledge from qualified advisors when it comes to leadership, but rather confusion as to where to find it. You see, it is those practicing in our space without said knowledge that create confusion for those in desperate need of it.

I’m thankful to Mike Henry for creating a forum such as this where we can help one another work through some of the issues being discussed in this thread.

Thanks for your candor David.

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