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Build Tomorrow’s Leaders By Teaching Them Today

Good question. It’s one I ask myself a lot as I do my work. So I was eager to read what Lee Iacocca had to say in his new book. I was hoping for some insight and original thinking, but what I found in the excerpt that ran in Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was more of the same political hand-wringing from a guy who runs a substantial risk of being “the pot calling the kettle black.”

What leaders has Lee Iacocca shaped throughout his career? What expertise did he leave behind? What time did he devote to helping young executives learn how to run a major corporation? I ask these questions in a spirit of genuine inquiry because I don’t know.

In addition, I wonder how his business experience qualifies him to know what he’s talking about politically? I question his judgment in jumping to assumptions (we’re in Iraq because Bush wants “to avenge his daddy” and “show his daddy he’s tougher”). I’d hoped he’d be bigger than that.

Leadership in the political arena is a very sick puppy. We all know that. Too many pseudo-experts have too much to say that is not only not helpful, it is inflammatory. Without a means of productively channeling stirred-up energy, I’d say it’s irresponsible.

So where have all the leaders gone?

I’d argue that they’re not being made. It seems to me that the current generation of leaders has been so preoccupied with its own success and fame that it has had precious little time to groom up-and-comers.

That’s a broad generalization and generalizations are always dangerous. And it’s not a remark that will win me any friends at high levels. Still, as I look at businesses doing less ongoing and coherent leadership development—despite a lot of talk about it—it seems not only silly but a waste of time to wonder where the leaders are.

Effective leadership is a cumulative “talent.” Effective leaders listen, learn, and experiment with ideas while cultivating mutually respectful relationships everywhere they go. They seek input and feedback. They build coalitions. They understand the concept of “enemy,” but waste little time trying to take them out.

The best leaders learned from someone. My questions for today’s leaders: Who are you deliberately teaching? And what are you teaching, whether deliberately or not?

Until we answer those questions thoughtfully and begin a sustained effort to build tomorrow’s leaders, our future looks dim indeed.

Categories: Leadership

About Susan Marshall

Susan A. Marshall is author, speaker and founder, whose mission is to create a stronger, more confident future, one person or team at a time.  Through personal experience and hands-on work with executives from diverse industries at all levels, Susan has had the privilege of helping thousands of people do the difficult and exhilarating work of growth.