Leadership Development: Using Implicit Leadership Theories

Posted on March 5, 2012 by TNS Consulting Team (via Scott Spayd)

When we think about the great leaders of our world, how did these individuals come to be such great leaders? Where these individuals born with leadership skills or were they developed? This is a question that continues to be questioned in the realm of organizational development. If leaders are not born with traits, how can individuals be developed into great leaders?

Leadership skills involve many different characteristics. There is not one defining feature that will imply that someone will be a strong leader. Instead, leadership skills are multidimensional and this must be considered in any leadership development programs.

In a study conducted by Schyns, Kiefer, Kerschreiter, and Tymon (2011), the researchers emphasized the importance of the social aspects of leadership development. The social nature is often forgotten during leadership development, but is an extremely important component of a strong leader. An important step in leadership development involves aligning the leader’s self-identity to the social context of a great leader.

Implicit leadership theories suggest that observing leaders in different situations enables an individual to gain an understanding for how they ought to act if faced with similar situations. Leadership development can therefore foster motivation for leaders to continue learning along the way. The best leaders continue to develop their skills and learn from past experiences and others.

The researchers recommend using case studies as a tool for leaders to develop their problem solving skills. It is best to have individuals or leaders read case studies and discuss his or her impressions. Next, the individual should walk through his or her strategy for solving the problem in detail. The trainer should ask questions to facilitate discussion and bring to light points that may not have been considered. The trainer should discuss with the individual any biases that he or she notices that the individual may be subconsciously subject to.

Schyns, et al. also developed a self-reflection process that they believed was an important part of leadership development. The self-reflection asks individuals to think about questions such as:

Think about leaders in general. From your perspective: What characteristics do they have? What did they do (and what don’t they do)?

Visual aids or drawings are also a great developmental tool. This tool allows individuals to use the implicit theory to the best extent by encouraging individuals to think outside of the box. Drawings encourage leaders to think about people around them such as subordinates and fellow employees. It is important for leaders to consider the other members of their organization and the roles they play in the overall success of the organization. Individuals are asked during training to draw what comes to mind with the following prompts:

Focus on Leader Skills, Characteristics, and Behaviors

Wider Societal Purpose of Leadership in Relationship to Followers

Different Power Relations Within the Leadership Process in a Wider Organizational and Societal Context

The outcome of using such exercises as self-reflections and drawings is to enable leaders to be self-aware of their actions and how they impact others. With a focus on followers and those around them, a leader can come to understand how their skills will ultimately lead to success or failure on the organizational context.

What are your thoughts on this theory? Do you think self-reflection and incorporating drawings is effective?

Schyns, B., Kiefer, T., Kerschreiter, R., & Tymon, A. (2011). Teaching implicit leadership theories to develop leaders and leadership: How and why it can make a difference. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 10, 397-408.

TNS Consulting Team (via Scott Spayd)

About TNS Consulting Team (via Scott Spayd)

Great companies know that it takes highly engaged employees to retain customers and make their brand promise come alive. To make the connection between your employees, customers and brand, you need a partner with deep expertise across several areas. Only KANTAR TNS has over two decades of employee survey experience, as well as access to the consultative and research resources of the world’s largest customer satisfaction benchmark database and brand analytics research. Whether you have 200 employees or 200,000, Kantar TNS has the expertise and the advanced measurement, reporting, and follow up tools you need to deliver on your employee and customer brand promise.

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