Professionalisation of Leadership

A call to professionalise leadership could raise the eyebrows of some leaders, as they struggle to reconcile with or wrap their minds around such a vision. Others will express interest. While some will think it’s a brilliant proposal. 

I submit that we as a society have no worthwhile alternative if we want to significantly change the collective standard of leadership. What we have done up until now to ensure high standards across the board has frankly been a sad indictment of our world and our understanding of leadership and its irreplaceable role and influence in society. In fact, if we had to account to future generations we may be deeply embarrassed. 

A quick perspective. Our recent question on LinkedIn and Twitter of whether we as a society are producing better or worse leaders resulted in a shocking, even embarrassing answer. Over 80% voted for worse. And other polls concur. How about that! What future do we have if 80% of people believe we are somehow producing worse leaders? There is and won’t be any trust and confidence in current and future leaders, judging by this answer. And without trust, there is no influence and no impactful, authentic leadership. We have to do things significantly different if we want different results. It’s that simple. 

So let us explore the professionalisation route. A very successful recently “retired” CEO told me he could buy into the “Continuous Leadership Development” concept, but the moment I make the leap to professionalisation I lose him. So let me address him and others that may agree or currently sit on the fence in this matter.

As a society, we have successfully professionalised Doctors, Actuaries, Accountants, Engineers, Psychologists, Lawyers and more, with other professions still on the journey. These individuals have to earn CPD (Continuous Professional Development) points on an annual basis to remain active and effective in their professions – we don’t want bridges to collapse on us. 

What is the CPD process other than Continuous Technical / Functional Development? That’s all it is. They have to participate in activities that earn them points for remaining up to date and technically efficient. Legally they are compelled to do so. They must prove how they earned their points. It must be on record somehow. The process upholds the reputation and respect for the profession. It ensures there are no charlatans in their industry. While there may be somewhat of an “exclusivity” agenda here, we accept it and perhaps the trade-off is that our doctors, engineers, accountants and others are competent because of it. 

The glaring challenge manifests itself inside larger organisations, where these qualified and professional individuals are often promoted to managerial roles, because they are in general effective at their technical jobs, partly because of the professional standards that are upheld. So, more obvious leadership opportunities gravitate towards them. I say “more obvious” because one need not only lead through title. Nevertheless, they are promoted and face the question of whether to keep their CPD points active or not. After all, they are now moving in the direction of a leadership career, so why make the effort of participating in activities that keep their professional status active. They opt-out and climb the corporate ladder where their newfound career of leadership pays more, offers newfound recognition and increased scope for making a difference, but without having to attend to those regular activities for points. In short, they are no longer held strictly or officially accountable for remaining Career Fit – Leadership Fit. And the argument that leaders are held accountable through results does not hold, because so are Engineers and Accountants, yet they are required to continue with Continuous Professional Development (CPD). 

And lest anyone wrestles unnecessarily with their internal belief that leadership is instinctive, inborn or some are just naturally gifted at it? Yes, much the same as some professionals are more gifted at being attorneys, accountants and engineers than others, no exceptions have been made for them to stop participating in the CPD process and remaining technically fit. Even gifted individuals – including world-class athletes – can become unfit.

Of course, many organisations may send leaders on ad hoc expensive short term leadership courses and tick the box for doing so; wash their hands and feel they have done their part; thereby sustaining the deeply flawed – often subconscious – belief that there are shortcuts to becoming an effective leader; that it’s somehow easier than becoming a great accountant or engineer. As a result, no leader out there is truly accountable for remaining leadership fit; for continuously implementing already accepted activities or practices that will invariably help them be consistently effective at leading themselves, others, organisation and society. 

Incompetent Engineers collapse bridges. Incompetent Doctors could cause loss of life. Incompetent, insecure, technically focused, weak and ultimately toxic, ego-driven leaders – charlatans – result in desperately unhappy followers; increase in emotional illnesses; breakdown of families; erosion of morals and values; destruction of personal and organisational confidence; unnecessary wars; collapse of organisations and nations. The consequences of unfit leaders are immeasurable! We have and continue to experience it, because it’s far too common a practice. 

How O how have we as a society allowed leaders to get away with NOT being held accountable for their leadership fitness? Why have we done this? 

It is blatantly obvious that we need to course-correct by professionalising leadership as a matter of priority and urgency. We asked on Twitter and LinkedIn whether society should enforce (implement) a “Continuous Leadership Development” process and system for leaders? Approximately 80% responded with yes. So what are they actually agreeing to? 

To my CEO contact and those that vote for CLD (Continuous Leadership Development), it is largely synonymous with professionalisation. It is a form of CPD. It is a process of participating in regular leadership fitness (development) activities.

Why not a Portfolio of Evidence?

So why not take a step up and simply implement a system of tracking these activities, so that leaders can demonstrate to themselves and others why they are leadership fit – a Portfolio of Evidence? 

Why not CLD Points?

And why not be rewarded with automatic CLD Points in the process? Some gamification and another way to “prove” one’s participation and progress. Add to this a way for leaders to visibly measure their movement up a scale of leadership fitness.

Why not CLD Points for movement in practice? 

And why not go one step further to add rewarding of points as leaders report on successful movement created outside of the CLD process? That means they will discover the direct link between fitness activities – coaching, mentoring, courses, reading articles and more – and improvement of performance in practice. Development is therefore no longer a purely academic, box-ticking exercise. 

Why not a Global Leaderboard (professional register)?

And as we implement the above, why not introduce a register – or Leaderboard of some kind – that showcases leaders that are actively keeping themselves leadership fit, by country, sector and leadership level? Why not gather in one virtual place the quality leaders – from junior to senior – so that society, organisations know where to find, recognise and put them to work? 

Why not institutionalise & legalise?

Finally, why not institutionalise and legalise it so that we significantly and permanently lift the standard of leadership globally, into the future, as a gift to future generations? 

Continue to respect individual uniqueness

And all of this must be done with the utmost respect for individual uniqueness; not necessarily against the backdrop of one definition of leadership, or one way of leading. 

We don’t regulate content as much as the process of becoming leadership fit, by rewarding:

  1. Consistent Participation in development activities that are globally accepted – coaching, mentoring, completing courses, attending webcasts, reading books and articles, watching videos, listening to podcasts, learning “by osmosis” from leaders in close proximity, and so on.
  2. Conscious identification of personal learnings from the activities.
  3. Embracing the learnings in order to actively build competencies of leading self, others, organisation and society 
  4. Successful implementation of learnings – creating actual movement in their immediate environment of self, others and organisation
  5. Sharing – giving back – knowledge and wisdom while on the journey of discovery and growth

Let us do things differently. Let us respect the role of leadership for what it should be and hand over better equipped, competent, authentic leaders for future generations. Let us not only ensure the technical fitness of engineers, accountants, doctors and others but also leadership fitness of leaders, who are often the same professionals that transition into these leadership careers. They of all people should naturally transition from CPD to CLD. 

We call for the professionalisation of what is arguably the most important and impactful career and profession – Leadership. It’s proven because so many professionals upscale or evolve their original careers into this profession. It’s almost unavoidable for those that want to progress towards their full potential as human beings. 

Let us significantly change leadership for a happier, conscious and more prosperous future. 

If you can and want to help realise this vision for yourself, your organisation, your existing professional body or across society, please engage us. Look forward to hearing from you.