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Three Critical Questions on Leadership Development: Part 1

March 22, 2012

Critical QuestionsYou’ve undoubtedly heard the maxim, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” a thousand times. As someone with an eye towards business leadership and as a helpless analytic, I tend to believe – sometimes to a fault – that data, not pictures, deserve our undivided attention.

So, you will find it unsurprising that the release of Development Dimensions International’s 2011 Global Leadership Forecast engendered more than the typical amount of excitement from me. Having involved over 2,600 organizations and more than 14,300 HR professionals and leaders across 74 countries, it provides a wealth of compelling data – data which I return to time and time again to refocus, reenergize, and refine my work.

I recently had cause to revisit this study when a conversation with a colleague prompted me to consider what I see as three critical, foundational questions one should ask when embarking on the journey of developing or assessing a leadership development strategy. Over the next two weeks (and four blog posts) I’ll highlight these questions and provide brief answers, grounded in data derived from the 2011 Global Leadership Forecast. Of course these are not the only questions one ought to ask – just three preliminary questions which will serve you well in framing your approach to your leadership development strategy. And, of course, the answers I provide are not comprehensive – entire books could (and have!) been dedicated to addressing these questions.

“Why is leadership development so important?”

While always wise to start with the basics, the answer to this, the first critical question I revisited, seemed patently obvious. As someone who has had the good fortune to work in organizations spanning the gamut from pseudo-neolithic to high-tech, from financial services to trade association, from nonprofit to large university to private sector, and ranging from five to 20,000 employees, I have seen the many benefits attributable to good leadership – and the aggravating, embittering, self-defeating cost of poor leadership.

But where personal experience – mine or yours – may fail to make the case for leadership development, we have thousands of talking heads and hundred-thousands of ‘lay persons’ who, in their clamoring for better, more effective, more purposeful leadership, seem to argue our point for us. They feel the pain of the disease which has been diagnosed by intellectual giants like James MacGregor Burns, an idol of mine and a discerning scholar who observed that “the crisis of leadership today is the mediocrity or irresponsibility of so many of the men and women in power.” 1

But, why do we need the observations and anecdotes of talking heads and crusty scholars (sorry, James), when we have current, cutting-edge data which tells us that

organizations who boast the highest quality leaders are “13 times more likely to outperform their competition in key bottom-line metrics.” 2

With data like this at hand, who can afford to ignore or underestimate the importance of leadership development?

What do you think? Does this statistic surprise you or does it match your experience? Let us know by commenting below.

Join me on Tuesday, March 27th, when I consider the second critical question one should ask when considering a leadership development strategy.



1. James MacGregor Burns. Leadership (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), 1.
2. Jazmine Boatman and Richard Wellins, “Global Leadership Forecast 2011.” Development Dimensions International, Inc. 2011.

About the Author:

Ashley Wollam is Program Manager at Linkage, responsible for its Global Institute for Leadership Development. A life-long, passionate student of leadership, Ashley received his early leadership training at the McDonough Center for Leadership and Business at Marietta College, one of the first undergraduate leadership programs in the country.

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