I once watched the movie ‘Limitless’ which explored the concept of a pill that leads to acutely enhanced awareness and performance. Obscure facts tucked away in the recesses of one’s subconscious become accessible; patterns hidden by details become clear and decision-making confusion gives way to alarming clarity. Things happen, there is an air of invincibility and others are in awe of these seemingly ‘super-powers’.  Of course the downside is that the pill is addictive, has some bad side effects and can lead to one’s demise. However, these dire consequences pale into insignificance once the enhanced reality of the pill is experienced, ordinary life becomes untenable and so the pill is taken.

Sounds a bit like the approach some take to leadership you might well be thinking!

For some the practice of leadership seems to come naturally elevating their performance onto some sort of super-human level, or so it would seem. Equally so the addictive nature of power and the downside of leadership position and prestige can and does lead to some well documented ‘side-effects’. Leadership it would seem should come with a warning on the package.

Of course there is no ‘leadership pill’. Yet that hasn’t stopped many from trying to find such a pill.

In fact, several years ago in Thailand I came across a ‘leadership tonic’. Packed in a somewhat ominous dark brown bottle with a bright yellow label, the ‘leadership tonic’ promised all who consumed it a raft of admirable virtues such as courage and integrity. If only it were that simple! In a slightly more sophisticated manner there have been many consultants, authors and perhaps even business schools who have been equally guilty of peddling a ‘leadership pill’. It is not hard to find some ready-made formula for leadership – a ‘if you do this’ then you can be sure ‘that’ will happen. The quick-fire formulae abound and there is no shortage to (pick your number) steps to effective leadership practice.

Whilst some of these practical indicators can be helpful they usually fall short of an authentic discussion on the deeper needs and demands of leadership. There is no pill that can be taken for leadership and we need to abandon the quick fix mentality and simple technique approach that we often fall prey to in the quest to develop leaders.

Learning leadership includes the intersection between theory and practice. It demands engaging in the tough work of evaluation and reflection. This cycle of theory, practice, evaluation and reflection (as espoused by Forde) forms the stepping-stones in what I like to call the ‘leadership tumble turn’.

Much of what it will take to lead in the context of uncertainty and change – in a world connected through technology, will demand new mindsets and skill sets. Finding these at both a personal and organizational level will demand perspective and asking the right questions. It will require new learning and a willingness to fail forward in the quest to know what is required of leaders today and tomorrow.

I believe that a great deal of how we approach leadership education and development will have to change and it will be interesting to see just how adaptable the ‘teachers’ will be. I know of pockets of brave initiatives to prepare people today for the demands of tomorrow’s leadership. But more needs to be done.

Yes, we live in a world of pills – pills to provide sleep or to keep you awake; to give you energy or to calm you down; to help you have a baby or to keep you from having a baby– but if there was to be a leadership ‘pill’ then this is the best I can come up with: Persistent Intentional Lifelong Learning!

Best taken as a daily dose!

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