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Tell me the rule – I have plenty of good information: rule 1: leadership development is first about leaders who are develop-able

Posted on Tue, Jan 18, 2011

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By David Casullo

describe the imageRecently, I watched our founder, Suzanne Bates, expertly ply her significant teaching talents with a group of PhDs and a very bright leader of a Fortune 500 chemical company division. I tried to pinpoint the elements of her style that so effectively pierced the intellectual barricade surrounding these talented individuals and caused them to watch and learn so intently. On a break I overheard one of the participants articulate to Suzanne exactly what I was looking for. He thanked her for the material that he found helpful and added, “I am trained as a scientist so I am used to data and information. What you did for us is provide the rule behind the information that the data support. That's what really matters”.

This “scientist” was referring to the rule that people connect more deeply when something touches their emotions versus their intellect. The epiphany was how a well-positioned and well-articulated story can be used to drive home a key selling point.

The rule is the key. In consulting, most people offer good information for the client. Most can explain some factual tidbit or concept. At the very least, any “expert” worth his or her salt must provide useful information, right? The difference between good consulting work and great consulting work lies in providing clients with the rule (in other words, the why); the fundamental principle that lies beneath it all.

When it comes to leadership development there is one rule that qualifies as the Holy Grail.

The Holy Grail is “Start with someone who is developable”. Makes sense and sounds simple, doesn't it? Some of the best rules of all time are the simplest. “Do unto others … ” is a good rule, and pretty simple. So is “Start with someone who is developable”.

Developable leaders demonstrate capability in the four Cs:

  1. character;
  2. competence;
  3. confidence; and
  4. communication.


As my good friend Dr Phil Martin says, this is imperative. In today's business world character is simply the price of entry as a leader of people. If you intend to select leaders for the next level in your organization, your selection criteria must start here. And please remember, character is values in action.


The right leaders demonstrate strong performance consistently. They bring results. They are trusted because they are reliable. They know what to do and how to it.


Developable leaders are confident people. And there's a very fine line between confidence and arrogance. The latter is a deal-breaker.


This “C” is all-too-often undervalued and overlooked. Leaders can have exemplary traits in the other three “C” areas, but if they cannot communicate what is inside them in a way that inspires and motivates others, then they are precluded from your “A” level candidate pool … period. Thankfully, good communication skills are developable and Bates Communications can help.

While seeking the four Cs might seem like common sense, my experience has uncovered many well thought-through leadership development plans neglecting to find people who are developable. There is, after all, much to sort out. Consider just the art of transferring information from one individual to another. That is an art and few do it well. Just ask my 17-year-old daughter about her math teacher. She will tell you he struggles with the art of transferring knowledge.

Or maybe you race down the path of curriculum development anxious to decide on a set of concepts that you know are essential for leadership success in your company. Once the key drivers of good leadership are identified – character, intellect, social skills, emotional intelligence to name a likely few – it isn't unusual to focus your time and effort as well as your staff's talents on analyzing methodology that could or should be used to inculcate the concepts. All of this is necessary and important but secondary to first clearly understanding what constitutes a developable leader before you expend the finite and often scarce resources to develop them.

And, by the way, developable leaders want to develop themselves. At its core, leadership development is continual self-development. You can't teach this desire. Your best leaders have to bring it to the table.

So a simple rule to keep in mind as you are faced with the daunting task of developing leaders for the future success of your organization is: make sure the folks you select are developable. My cousin said it best when he described Larry Bird's lackluster performance as an NBA coach. During one interview, Coach Bird lamented that his players just didn't get it. He had explained in clear and simple terms what it takes to be successful on the basketball court and he was befuddled why the players just couldn't do it. Well, coach, my cousin explains, you've forgotten one thing: you're Larry Bird and they're not.

It's true that basketball players like Larry Bird are in short supply, but if you're going to build a championship leadership team you need to select players with the right stuff first. Just ask Julio Iglesias (yes, the singer – and also a limited partner of the Miami Heat).


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