Thirty years ago I graduated in the pioneer class of dental surgeons at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. My head was bursting with knowledge but my hands were very short on experience. It did not take long for me to realize that there is a very big difference between knowing and doing.
It took the patient tutelage over time, of a more experienced dentist, Dr. Ken Chapman to help me become an accomplished dental clinician. My mentor combined three key elements in developing me: assessment, challenge and support. Developing good leaders is very similar. An effective leader developmental system combines those three key elements in expanding the capacity of followers to be effective in leadership roles and processes.
Assessment provides a yardstick for future development and gives the follower an understanding of their current state, strengths and weaknesses, performance or leader effectiveness level, primary developmental needs, and the challenges and opportunities that surround them. Dr. Chapman often called me aside to discuss an issue with a treatment I was carrying out. At the end of the day we would have a debrief meeting. Initially I felt offence at being corrected, but with time I began to value the advice I was receiving.
Assessments also help followers to become motivated to capitalize on learning opportunities available to them. There are various instruments available on the market to help with assessment. It is important that the chosen instrument is reliable. My mentor used real time feed back that covered both profession and character feedback.
Comfort is the enemy of continued growth and development, therefore challenging experiences that demand skills and abilities beyond the current capabilities of the followers are crucial for developing leaders.
Such experiences push followers out of their comfort zones by creating disequilibrium – an imbalance between current skills and demands. My mentor would often, after explaining the steps, get me to do a challenging dental procedure that I had never done before. In leadership development, challenging experiences, when properly set up, managed and mined, can help develop the next generation of outstanding leaders. These experiences comprise of being exposed to new situations, difficult goals, conflict, and dealing with adversity.
Support helps the follower to handle the struggle and pain of developing thereby reinforcing changes in both behavior and performance, otherwise challenge may overwhelm rather than foster learning. It was reassuring for me to know that in the event that I got in difficulty with a complicated dental procedure, Dr. Chapman was available to help out. While practices associated with support vary widely, the most important source of support is other people – especially leaders. Leadership development is enhanced when social networks within the organization facilitate individual and collective growth and development.
The continuous assessments I received, the challenging experiences I was exposed to, and the support given to me through the process of learning were key in my journey towards professional excellence. I have in turn been offering the same to other dental professionals.
Organizations benefit when they develop their leaders.
Organizational performance improves, succession management is strengthened and organizational change is better managed.