The Changing Face of Leadership Development: From Capability to Capacity

February 20, 2009


Since the turn of the millennium there has been a shift towards a perspective through which leadership is viewed more as a distributed or dispersed phenomenon, as opposed to just a leader-follower relationship. A conference on developing leadership capacities [July 2009] explores these concepts

This post has been contributed by Dr Gareth Edwards, of The Leadership Trust Foundation

As Ian Palmer and Cynthia Hardy, have suggested:

The argument that we are witnessing a shift from old to new forms of organising parallels a similar shift in the leadership literature regarding the need to move away from authoritarian to dispersed or distributed modes of leadership.

In principle, the concept of distributed leadership promotes the idea that the capacity to lead is within us all and therefore leadership or the potential for leadership is apparent in all facets of an organisation. This philosophy is built upon the notion of emergent leadership through which leadership develops through one’s personal power as opposed to one’s positional or authority power.

In addition, another broad perspective is emerging, which presents leadership as a socially constructed phenomenon.

The social identity approach regards leadership as a process that is influenced by the group or community in which it resides.

Never before has leadership been viewed in such breadth – so what does this mean for organisations? Well for one thing, it highlights the need for organisations to identify and develop leadership capability in a different light and in a broader sense. It means organisations understanding their leadership capacity as well as the leadership capability of certain individuals within the organisation. Leadership in this new post-heroic era needs to be viewed as a network of leadership ability, not just as high-potential people. With this renaissance, therefore, comes the need to re-think how we view leadership development. It no longer can be merely about developing individuals through self development processes. We need to look at how we develop ‘communities of practice’ to enable the development of leadership capacity throughout organisations, communities and society.

Leadership capacity

How do we know where organisations have leadership capacity? What methodologies should be used to develop this capacity? And, how do we evaluate leadership development initiatives, interventions and programmes? – are questions that may need to be redressed.

Furthering this line of research, The Centre for Applied Leadership Research at The Leadership Trust Foundation along with the Bristol Centre for Leadership and Organisational Ethics (BCLOE) at the Bristol Business School, will be holding a one day conference on Developing Leadership Capacity on 16th July 2009.

To go more deeply

Palmer, I., & Hardy, C., (2000) Thinking About Management, Sage,

Ellemers, N., De Gilder, D. and Haslam, S.A, (2004) ‘Motivating Individuals and Groups at Work: A Social Identity Perspective on Leadership and Group Performance’, Academy of Management Review, XXIX, 459-78

Haslam, S.A. (ed.) (2004), Psychology in Organisations: The Social Identity Approach, 2nd edn, (London: Sage Publications, 2004)

Hogg, M.A. (2001) ‘A Social Identity Theory of Leadership’, Personality and Social Psychological Review, V, 184-200.

Etienne Wenger. (1999) Communities of Practice, Cambridge University Press.