We need to locate our development as leaders within a practical approach to our leadership qualifications – how we place what we are learning and achieving in our leadership development program within the context of what we will need to maximise our choices later in our lives.
After all, if we are going to lead, shouldn’t we apply to the field of leadership the same rigour that we would apply to any other field of human endeavour? If there are lesson to be learned from the experiences of others who have come before us and the application of wider studies based on evidence of what does and what does not work, then surely we have much to gain from this. It may not necessarily mean that we can lead, but at least we will have a base of competencies which has been tested in an academic sense. Or do we need this at all? There is a lot of advice that is freely given about the desirability of qualifications in leadership. In the same way that formal positions of leadership are downplayed in favour of more informal leadership experiences, so too will conventional wisdoms sometimes suggest that qualification is not as important as character. This sometimes seems to tap into the broader vein of thinking that the character and competencies of expertise in any field cannot be “taught”, it can only be “caught”. Sometimes, too, this is augmented by the idea that when such expertise and the qualification that might indicate these to a wider audience is “sought”, the worthiness of the recipient of such a qualification or aspiration to lead is cheapened by this desire and this formal accreditation of what we might have learned is reduced to merely being “a piece of paper” and not worth as much as the years of experience learned in “the school of hard knocks” or some such equivalent.
"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Let’s put this all in perspective. We need to learn to lead. We can learn this formally and informally, through study and experience. Leadership is, therefore, caught, taught and sought. We do not need to privilege one mode of learning as though it must inherently be better than the others. In the same way that thriving is built on a platform of character, competency and wellness, so too the essential competency of leadership can be built on what we have read about, what we aim for, what we have committed to practice, what we have taken in through formal programs of training and development, and what we learn along the way that is passed on to us in relationships of character apprentice. We also learn much from what we see put into practice by others. Modelling is essential, yet without a process to allow us to test out what we have seen with others, to refine its execution, and to have our success acknowledged through qualification, how would anyone know if we were prepared in any sense to lead?
So there is a specific knowledge base that can help us to lead more effectively, a set of skills that we can put into practice, a suite of dispositions that can guide our values and beliefs about leadership, and a wide range of approaches we can use to continue our learning on an ongoing basis. The attainment of qualifications is a starting point for us; our expertise will most likely be limited when we start to put it into practice, but at least we will have some idea of what might be done and how best to break down the leadership task into achievable goals and strategies.
It’s also important for us to recognise and reward interest, effort and talent in those who aspire to serve. After all, the commitment to serve is an indication of the need to expend more time, energy and resources on directing, motivating, influencing, and inspiring people to bring about willingly a shared intention that most likely will not have been brought about without such a commitment to place the needs of others before oneself, often with much less tangible reward for such efforts and much more criticism and stress than might be assumed at first glance. The least we can do is to take the time to acknowledge the study and hard work that went in to the courses, programs, degrees and other educational processes that our emerging, middle and senior leaders have gone through to help them to respond to the call to lead and do their job as leaders better. It seems only reasonable that, when they make mistakes, we acknowledge that to do so is human, even if the responsibility they have taken on goes beyond themselves. And when they do attain their qualifications, we can pay due respect to the intent and effort required to gain them. It’s not wrong to want to lead, nor is it wrong to want to become better qualified to do the job of leadership. Leadership on The Pathway To Excellence is hard work, and qualifications are a good starting point to demonstrating to one and all our willingness to engage in and complete the learning as to how we might do this work better.
We can contemplate our understanding of our Leadership Grades and Qualifications by considering the following questions: