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Who is Responsible for Leadership Development?

In many agencies there is disagreement over who is responsible for leadership development. In some organizations, responsibility for leadership development is delegated to HR. In others, leadership development is viewed as the domain of trainers. In yet other organizations, employees expect the agency’s senior leadership to take the lead.
They are all right—to a point. All three groups–HR staff, leadership trainers and senior leaders–have an important role in facilitating leadership development in the agency. Their roles should be as follows:

• HR should ensure that the agency’s personnel policies are aligned to ensure that effective leaders rise to the top. That means leadership capacity must be a key factor in promotions and hiring/selections for key leadership positions.

• Leadership training should be easy to get and trainers should ensure that leadership training courses are of high quality and relevant to the agency’s culture and needs.

• Senior leaders throughout the organization should make it clear by word and deed that leadership is important and valued in their agency. That means being good mentors, coaches, and role models.

And it sure helps if someone is connecting the dots between the leadership development efforts of HR, the trainers and the managers to ensure that their efforts are mutually reinforcing and that that are no gaps.

The Real Bottom Line
The person with the ultimate responsibility for leadership development, however, is YOU. All the incentives, training, and mentors in the world will accomplish nothing if each individual does not take ownership of his/her own leadership development. Learning to lead is a lifelong process. It’s hard work that requires practice, new skills, lots of feedback, and continual reflection. And only you can do it.

So, what are you going to do about it? How committed are you to growing as a leader? There’s no time like the present to begin! Seek out the experiences, mentors, and courses that can help you along the way. Seek feedback and make time for reflection. And never, ever, stop learning.

This article was cross-posted at the GovLeaders Blog.

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Important thinking going on here, thanks for sharing. We are working on a number of these concepts, through our Strategic Development Division of Social and Rehabilitation Servcies, in Kansas. Our director, has developed a framework for comprehensive leadership development that is in the creative planning stages now. We are also moving to a more comprhensive and integrated learning organization to help achieve what you have introduced in your comments.


I agree – leadership development starts with you. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of leadership development run out of HR. Feels like an after-thought and a 2nd class program without senior support. I’m not sure if HR in the gov’t has ever moved into the strategic human capital and talent management we desire and out of paper pushing – but let’s hope…

Celia Mendive

You are so right Don! Leadership is an art and ultimately developing as a leader boils down to whether or not you have the passion, patience and desire to move up in your career. Every agency is different and some programs might not be as successful as others; but that should not be an obstacle for any employee. There are organizations out there such as Young Government Leaders that provide opportunities for professional development. It’s a matter of taking the time to research and find organizations that will support you as a growing leader; a matter of taking charge of your career by taking advantage of these opportunities, and investing the time necessary to make the right connections and acquire the right tools. Yet the most important component of growing as a leader in my opinion is taking the time to develop others…and you can do so even when you are not in a management position. There is always someone out there who can learn and appreciate your experiences.

Janis Heim

Very good points and ideas! Building on what Celia has said, as the President of the Nebraska State Government Chapter of NMA–THE Leadership Development Organization, I want to stress that there are many ways to gain leadership experience and skills both inside and outside of your agency or organization. Working together with other people interested in developing leadership skills is a good way to share information and feedback and practice the skills you develop. I attended my first NMA convention on my own and was almost trampled by 200+ people trying to demonstrate how well they could include and empower me. I’m not sure I have ever been able to live up to that experience or pass on that feeling, but I know what inspired motivation can do.

Kenneth Watkins

Well Don, we meet again amongst the high ideals and benevolent aspirations for “a well run organization” and a noble society.

In a theoretical sense I agree with you. The behaviors and attitudes necessary for leadership development are the responsibilty of each person that wants their operation to “work” and work well.

However, I also subscribe to the notion that some individuals are vested with the authority to ensure those attitudes and behaviours find fertile ground. In sum, I believe it’s critical that chief and/or senior executives create an environment that makes it easy for HR, line staff, subordinates, and junior executives to view those leadership development behaviors as a corporate/cultural good.

Leadership is bantied about like everyone means the same thing, but in an organized environment the relationship people have to leadership is usually hierarchial. Therefore, most don’t immediately embrace their responsibility to be exemplary of good leadership qualities; thus it becomes incumbent upon those at the top of the hierarchy to treat the development of “leadership” qualities as a cultural/corporate norm.

I believe that leaders create the environment they feel most comfortable leading, not always the environment that’s most conducive to organizational sustainability, long term growth, or leadership development.


your friend
Ken (“the Pragmatic Bohemian”)

Craig Sellars

Well said Don, particularly the portion on “The Real Bottom Line”.

I would add that Senior Leadership have another important role to play in recognizing leadership as it naturally arises. They must recognize independent actions taken by growing leaders when these actions are inline with agency values, priorities and initiatives. Arguably, no one should be in a formal leadership development program until they have displayed initiative and determination to improve their workplace and it’s ever evolving culture.

Formal leadership development is important, but as Mr. Miyagi said in the Karate Kid: “Driver’s licence never replaces eyes, ears and brain.”


R J Parry

Leadership development is a multi-tiered responsibility starting with the individual. Communication between the individual and supervisor should outline the career goals, identify education and training opportunities, while providing some mentorship.
Organizations have a responsibility to “grow their own”. Identify those who have potential and invest in them. Look for strategic and critical thinkers who are visionaries to move the organization toward changing goals. We dont have to look very hard to find members in our senior executive service who started within the GS (5-7) ranks.

To senior leaders I say open your eyes, think about how you got where you are, identify budding stars and give them some of the same things that helped you achieve your goals.

Paul Alberti

Bravo – I tell people no one is as interested in your career as you are. Don’t wait for “the organization” to manage your career – get involved, take advantage of different opportuntites. Knowledge, wisdom and common sense come from having a wide range of experiences to pull from.