MCCALL INTRODUCES A MODEL FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE NEXT GENERATION OF LEADERS, SUGGESTING THAT PEOPLE WHO ARE ABLE TO LEARN FROM EXPERIENCE WILL LEARN THE NECESSARY LEADERSHIP SKILLS, IF THEY ARE EXPOSED TO THE RIGHT KIND OF EXPERIENCES, AND IF THEY RECEIVE THE RIGHT KIND OF SUPPORT IN THEIR LEARNING EFFORTS. HE POINTS OUT, THAT IT HAS TO BE THE BUSINESS STRATEGY AS DEFINED BY THE TOP-MANAGEMENT THAT DETERMINES WHICH LEADERSHIP SKILLS ARE REQUIRED FOR THE FUTURE OF THE ORGANISATION, AND WHICH KIND OF EXPERIENCE WILL BE KEY FOR THE INTENDED PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT (188).
McCall starts by discussing the nature of leadership skills: are they a set of skills, that one either does have or not, or can they be learned? Based on his previous research he holds, that executive leaders are more made than born. Therefore he asserts that leadership potential can not be identified by looking for a profile of "competencies", but by looking for the ability to acquire the skills that will be needed in the future. Only this approach will insure leadership capability in a world of rapid change (4/5). McCall goes on by contrasting a "selection perspective" and a "developmental perspective". If leadership requirements are seen as a finite set of positive attributes, or "competencies", a leader either has them or not. Experience will be a test to verify whether one has them or not. On the other hand, if leadership requirements are seen as something that can come in multiple possibilities, a leader might obtain them, but also loose them, over time. Experience will be a source of the required attributes.
To build the case for a developmental perspective, McCall analyses "derailment" cases, were things went wrong. Using the example of the president of Kellogg Co., Horst Schroeder, he names five factors of initial success, which are common to people who failed at a later stage of their career: track record, brilliance, commitment, charm and ambition (29). When looking at the causes for the turn from success to failure, he lists four elements: 1) strengths can become a weakness, 2) blind spots or weaknesses that did not matter initially, later do matter, 3) success can lead to arrogance and 4) bad luck. (36).
McCall then sets out to define what would be the "right kind of experience". He outlines sixteen developmental experiences, coming in four groups: 1) assignments, 2) other people, 3) hardships and 4) other events (68). McCall emphasises, that there is no such thing as a generic development path, however, meaning that many different experiences can be useful. Development, therefore, is about a rational use of experience (81).
McCall holds that executive development should be determined by business strategy: the business strategy has to suggest which experiences are the most important for development (108). He points out that there are already processes at work, that have to be identified first. He than uses a case study (99) to describe the path from strategic intend to executive development: strategy, e.g. "sustained growth", was translated into leadership challenges, e.g. "dealing with increased complexity effectively". These leadership challenges were subsequently translated to possible developmental experiences, e.g. "lead an expansion that requires adding something new or different".
As McCall believes that leadership talent should not be identified by using a list of end-state attributes, but by looking for the ability to learn what needs to be learned from experiences, he introduces a growth model for talent (130). First, talented people will have to pay the "price of admission" for getting the organisational attention and investment. This involves being committed to making a difference, seeing things from new angles and having the courage to taking risks. Then, talented people will take advantage of the opportunities generated by the visibility. The next difference that characterise talented people is that they increase the learning opportunity. Finally, they take learning to heart, and change as a result of the experience.
Because of the central role of "the right kind of experience" in the development of the next generation of leaders, the mechanism to move people from one assignment to another is McCall's next focus. Succession planning can be more productive from a developmental perspective, if replacement candidates for key assignments are not identified on the basis of their current readiness for the job, but on the basis of how much they could learn from it. He predicts, that decision makers would only dare to do so, if they are not only held accountable for short-term results, but also for development of talent to meet future strategic needs (149). In organisations, were no formal system for movement exists, tactics for development could include making deals with other managers, influencing individual executives and counselling talented people to play a more active role in their own development (153). Yet another approach would be reengineering or corporate restructuring, presenting opportunity to redesign jobs without necessarily reassigning people (157). In conclusion, McCall underlines that people learn most by doing things they have never done before.
McCall defines three catalysts as the right kind of assistance for the learning efforts of leadership talent: 1) improvement of feedback, 2) provision of incentives and resources, 3) support of the change effort (181).
In his final chapter, McCall summarises the case for strategic executive development: 1) leadership makes a difference for the successful change of organisations, 2) leadership can not always be found or bought outside, 3) derailments are expensive and therefore should be avoided, 4) "survival of the fittest" is not the same as "survival of the best", meaning that leaving leadership development up to chance is foolish, 5) development cost are already sunk for the larger part, so at least the return on the investment should be sought for, 6) creating a learning environment is consistent with employee empowerment, 7) it is good business practice and good for stakeholder relations.
The book is certainly worth reading.