Three Key Elements in Developing Leaders

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.



  • Olga Ajiri Posted February 18, 2019 7:17 pm

    Enjoyed the article on developing leaders…. letting go of comfort and embracing challenges!thank you. Well written.

    • Dr. James Magara Posted February 18, 2019 7:57 pm

      Thank you Olga.

  • Nevis Posted February 18, 2019 7:33 pm

    Thanks for the wisdom shared here

    • Dr. James Magara Posted February 18, 2019 7:56 pm

      You’re welcome Nevis.

  • NAKYANZI Ritah Posted February 18, 2019 7:35 pm

    It’s a very useful piece
    I agree with the fact that as this growing leader is being challenged, it’s essential to support them. When you know that someone has got your back, it enhances your learning

    • Dr. James Magara Posted February 18, 2019 7:55 pm

      I agree with you Ritah, support is very crucial in grooming a leader. Thank you.

  • Patrick Katagata Posted February 18, 2019 8:06 pm

    I couldn’t have put it better. Very insightful piece you wrote #Dr. Magara. It’s challenging and refleshing at the same time. It’s intriguing! Thank you very much!

  • James Posted February 18, 2019 9:30 pm

    Thanks alot Dr. James. Very spot on lessons that can foster succession planning in an organisation. I particularly identify with the role of feedback in leadership development and use of tools in assessments. Thanks alot.

  • James Ameda Posted February 18, 2019 9:31 pm

    Thanks alot spot on lessons that can foster succession planning in an organisation. I particularly identify with the role of feedback in leadership development and use of tools in assessments. Thanks alot.

  • John K Kimbe Posted February 19, 2019 5:04 am

    Great piece of writing. Once a leader appreciates getting out of his/her comfort zone it will be easier for that message to be passed on to the followers.

  • A.N. Kizito Posted February 19, 2019 6:27 am

    “Comfort is the enemy of continued growth & Dev’t… “. I consider comfort a somewhat dangerous achievement. Once one is comfortable with whatever aspect they’re in, they tend to relax and enjoy… However, everything is in a continuous state of evolution and growing need exists to meet new demand from society/nature. As nature/society continue forward and one enjoys the comfort, not later, something new strike that’s very different from what we’re comfortable with. To enjoy sustained growth, it oftentimes demands venturing solutions to ever existing challenges. At times such venturing creates rational disequilibrium and many better opportunities.

  • Kaayabula Emmanuel Posted February 19, 2019 7:38 am

    Beautiful article. Need more of yhem

  • Christine Nyange Posted February 19, 2019 8:22 am

    Thank you Dr. Magara,
    I have read through and concur to what is written. It’s such a good piece!

  • Sheila Posted February 19, 2019 10:38 am

    Wawoo! I know Dr. Chapman as a very humble man and dentist of God. May God reachly bless him for mentoring you beyond just a career. I know you well too Dr. Magara, you have been a great inspiration to me though indirectly. May God bless your lineage.

  • Dr. Maria Gorretti Nakyonyi Posted February 19, 2019 1:13 pm

    Thank you Dr. Magara. Mentorship brings out the best leaders and ability to stand on their own.
    We are proud to be under your leadership and mentorship.
    Very nice piece. A lot to learn from you!

  • Isaac Tumusiime Byarugaba Posted February 19, 2019 4:39 pm

    So interesting how this ties so well with what am learning about growth mindset and fixed mindset and the need for mentors to guide through the turbulent waters of growth! Thank you for highlighting the aspects of assessment, challenge and support! This little known to those who try mentoring others. May God bless you for sharing your life!

  • Kiconco Sufficient Kakira Posted February 20, 2019 1:57 am

    Indeed comfort is an enemy of continued growth and development because it discourages someone to seek for more knowledge and the moment we stop then we stop growing. Thank you Dr. Magara the article is brief, clear and to the points. I have loved it.

  • Arthur Posted February 20, 2019 4:08 am

    Good stuff!

  • Julie Posted February 20, 2019 8:15 am

    Your achievements say it all. Big ups to a great mentor and an enthusiastic mentee. Uganda need such leaders to create an impact in this challenging era.

  • Irene Luguza Posted February 20, 2019 11:21 am

    This is great wisdom. I pray many leaders get to read this article.

  • Christopher Yikii Posted February 28, 2019 5:49 am

    I wouldn’t agree more!
    Comfort has often killed the continuous growth and development of many across the board and the philosophy that no organization grows beyond its leaders is true. When leaders are developed both the organization and the developed individuals benefit.
    A great reminder Dr. James.

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