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Developing Expert Leadership

Developing Expert Leadership

Quid Leader Development?

McCauley, Van Veslor, and Rudeman (2010) defined leadership development as "the expansion of the organization's capacity to enact the basic leadership tasks needed for collective work: setting direction, creating alignment, and maintaining commitment" (p. 18). In purposeful contrast to that oft-used concept, McCauley, Van Veslor, and Rudeman (2010) also defined leader development as "the expansion of a person's capacity to be effective in leadership roles and processes" (p. 2) and—by so doing—"understand leader development as one aspect of [the] broader concept of leadership development" (p. 18). It follows that the perspective of leader development is investment in human capital and that of leadership development is investment in social capital.

Terms of Reference for Leader Development

Being a good leader is not the same thing as being an effective leader and—sorry to say even if there are exceptions to the rule—vice versa. Put simply, effective leaders achieve their goals and good leaders do the right thing. That said, it is now incumbent on leaders to be both good and effective as neither attribute is sufficient per se. And so, becoming an expert leader is about developing a repertoire of skills and competencies, all of which as Day, Harrison, and Halpin (2009) made clear can take "a lifetime of experience, intense practice, and learning to master" (p. 172). To begin, would-be leaders should recognize that they will have to prepare themselves if they are to meet the challenge of leader development, which has to do with more than the honing of technical skills and demands also mastery of social and strategic competencies; next, their endeavors should spring from "a strong theoretical foundation for understanding, predicting, and accelerating leader development", appreciating that process is as important as content (Day, Harrison, & Halpin, 2009, p. 172).

Theoretical Propositions for Leader Development

Day, Harrison, and Halpin (2009) specified that leader development focuses on three domains:

"(i) expertise, competencies, and skill acquisition (including adult learning); (ii) identity processes, self-regulation, and individual differences in regulatory processes; and (iii) adult development processes and lifespan development" (p. 169). Day, Harrison, and Halpin's (2009) integrative theory of leader development was articulated around expertise, identity, and adult development processes: it is self-evidently comprehensive, with cornerstones that are complementary and mutually reinforcing.

Five theoretical propositions of Day, Harrison, and Halpin (2009), reproduced verbatim below, aim to deliver expertise and expert performance:

• Proposition 1: Expert leadership can be differentiated from novice (less expert) leadership.

• Proposition 2: The development of leadership expertise occurs as a result of identity changes that take place throughout the lifespan, but particularly in adulthood.

• Proposition 3: Basic level skills combine to form complex and multifaceted leadership competencies.

• Proposition 4: The development of expert leadership follows a longitudinal trajectory that parallels the development of expertise in other domains.

• Proposition 5: Intentional practice in leadership is needed to reach a level of expert leader performance. (p. 174)

Peering through the architecture of Day, Harrison, and Halpin's (2009) five theoretical propositions for expertise and expert performance, one can make out their acknowledgment that development calls for change, that change takes time, and that there is a requirement for the timing of things: the propositions "range along a continuum of developmental complexity" (Day, Harrison, & Halpin, 2009, p. 176). One may also note that the five propositions deal with the visible (or surface level) of expertise and expert performance, in contrast to the less visible (or meso level) of identity and self-regulation processes and the invisible (or foundation) of adult development (Day & Sin, 2011). However, some may query why the set of propositions— thence, the trajectory of leader development—should not be reversed to build bottom–up rather than top–down, as it were, with priority investments in adult development, next in identity and self-regulation processes, and then in expertise and expert development. Day, Harrison, and Halpin (2009) offered no explanation for the (apparent) back-to-front arrangements of the threefold architecture of propositions: Did they see deliberate practice as paramount? Does the prioritization of expertise and expert performance owe to the longer vista for identity and selfregulation processes and the even longer requirements of adult development? Is it, quite simply, because organizations are more willing to buy into expertise and expert performance than in the other two domains? Pace these perhaps esoteric qualms about the sequencing of investments for leader development, the five theoretical propositions placed an unmistakable accent on expertise and demonstrated internal logic and concern for the development—in turn—of declarative skills, procedural skills, strategic competencies, and adaptive competencies, leading to the conclusion that "Leader development is therefore conceptually closer to what it takes to become an expert than acquiring a particular skill" (Day, Harrison, & Halpin, 2009, p. 178).

Practicing Leadership

The proposition that "Intentional practice in leadership is needed to reach a level of expert leader performance" is the culmination of Day, Harrison, and Halpin's (2009) architecture for expertise and expert performance and deserves an aside (pp. 181–182). Incongruously, perhaps, if one bears in mind "the unrelenting pace", "the brevity and variety of its activities", "the fragmentation and discontinuity of the job", "the orientation to action", etc. that Mintzberg

(2009, p. 18)—who had little time for leadership—found in managing, Day, Harrison, and Halpin (2009) compared the practice of leadership to the levels of performance attained by expert musicians. The only concession to a difference between practicing leadership and developing expertise in music (or chess, sports, etc.) lies in serendipity, that leadership but not other domains of expertise affords: "Instead of providing a pat solution, the practicing leader offers support and encouragement to help the person construct a solution on his or her own" (Day, Harrison, & Halpin, 2009, p. 181). [The word "manager" never appears in Day, Harrison, and Halpin (2009): what distinction they made between leaders and managers cannot be fathomed but, if manager development has to do with gaining particularized knowledge, skills, and abilities to ramp up task performance in management roles, then that ought entail also offering support and encouragement.] And so, per Day, Harrison, and Halpin (2009, p. 182), it all boils down to intentionality: in the process of (his/her) development, is the leader aware that he/she is practicing leadership? In the hurly-burly of daily exertions that Mintzberg (2009) characterized, some may find Day, Harrison, and Halpin's (2009) reduction of the practice of leadership to mere intentionality a curious simplification. Intentionality can only serve so far if, per Bolden, Gosling, Hawkins, and Taylor (2011), leadership is "(1) a process, (2) of social influence, (3) to guide, structure, and/or facilitate, (4) behaviors, activities, and/or relationships, (5) towards the achievement of shared aims" (p. 21).

Identity and Adult Development Processes

Of course, as mentioned earlier, Day, Harrison, and Halpin (2009) fastened expertise development to identity and adult development processes and made each dimension integral to the others. Linking the three processes makes eminent sense, at least in theory, even if the prioritization of investments across the three domains (around which their integrative theory of leader development is framed) raises questions—that Day, Harrison, and Halpin (2009) did not address—and little (if anything) is said of necessary synergistic interactions among the domains or the practicalities thereof.

Three theoretical propositions of Day, Harrison, and Halpin (2009), reproduced verbatim below, aim to deliver identity and self-regulation processes:

• Proposition 6: Leadership competence is formed through spirals of leader identity formation and change in the context of learning and development through leadership experience.

• Proposition 7: Individual differences between leaders influence the rate and direction of the spirals of identity development and leader development.

• Proposition 7a: Self-regulatory strength accelerates the ongoing learning and development of leaders.

• Proposition 7b: Learning goal orientations facilitate development of leader expertise through the use of self-regulation strategies.

• Proposition 7c: A leader's generalized self-efficacy will positively relate to leader development and learning.

• Proposition 7d: Self-awareness will facilitate the development of leader learning and expertise.

• Proposition 7e: Forming implementation intentions regarding initiating leadership practice and persisting through distractions will facilitate leader development. (p. 174)

The essence of Day, Harrison, and Halpin's (2009) theoretical propositions for identity and selfregulation processes is that "leaders develop through a cyclical process of developing a leader's identity and engaging in developmental experiences" (p. 211). With assessment, challenge, and support, the identity-development spiral can be reinforced by such variables as self-regulatory strength, learning goal orientation, self-efficacy, self-awareness, and implementation intentions (p. 211).

Lastly, six theoretical propositions of Day, Harrison, and Halpin (2009), reproduced verbatim below, aim to deliver adult development:

• Proposition 8: Leader development is ongoing throughout the adult lifespan and is shaped by experience as well as through adult development and age-related maturation processes.

• Proposition 9: Maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle and building self-regulatory resources may facilitate health and well-being into late adulthood and contribute to lifelong development.

• Proposition 10: Individuals engage in selection, optimization, and compensation (SOC) processes in maximizing developmental gains and minimizing losses associated with developing as a leader.

• Proposition 11: The development of complex multifaceted leadership competencies is supported by a web of adult development that is dynamic and nonlinear in nature.

• Proposition 12: Moral reasoning and reflective judgment (i.e., epistemic cognition) develop concomitant with positive identity-development spirals.

• Proposition 13: Wisdom involves the alignment of morality and moral reasoning (virtue), identity and self-regulation (self) and reflective judgment (knowledge and thinking). (p. 175) The primary message of Day, Harrison, and Halpin's (2009) theoretical propositions for adult development was that expert leadership must be conceptualized within the broader compass of the former, which implies selective adaptation and transformation as well as a healthy lifestyle (p. 227). "The transformation of leaders is one that transpires across the entire lifespan" (Day, Harrison, & Halpin, 2009, p. 227). Therefore, selection, optimization, and compensation processes must mitigate across changing situations to dynamically support increasingly multifaceted leadership competencies, sharpen moral reasoning and reflective judgment, and promote the wisdom needed to align virtue and self as well as knowledge and thinking.

Enhancing Leader Development

Synergizing as one must the 13 theoretical propositions in the three domains, it is incontestable that the process of becoming an expert leader is complex, developmental, and must extend over the course of adult development. Accepting that leaders can—and in fact, do—learn, change, and grow over time, Day, Harrison, and Halpin's (2009) integrative theory of leader development invites contributions to the process and gives hope that development might be enhanced by influencing the three domains with informed and scientifically grounded interventions. Toward this, on-the-job experiences combined with assessment, challenge, and support can particularly enhance a leader's ability to learn, especially if approaches are systemic rather than events-based and tie in with leadership development.

And so, now that they understand better the dimensions of leader development, organizations must move from new-found understanding to general dynamics. But, this is where the difficulty lies: unless they are particularly well resourced, organizations are limited by internal operating systems and may not—owing to the number of individuals, their different stages of development, and the sheer variety of work experiences—be able to orchestrate actions across the three domains of leader development. In short, accepting limitations, what is urgently needed is advice on such essentials as aligning leader development and organizational strategy; identifying the desired outcomes of leader development; determining the sequencing of inputs to leader development; and, last but not least, instituting organizational and social contexts that enable leader development.


Bolden, R., Gosling, J., Hawkins. B., & Taylor, S. (2011). Exploring leadership: Individual, organizational, and societal perspectives. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Day, D., Harrison, M., & Halpin, S. (2009). An integrative approach to leader development: Connecting adult development, identity, and expertise. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Day, D., & Sin, H. (2011). Longitudinal tests of an integrative model of leader development: Charting and understanding developmental trajectories. The Leadership Quarterly, 22, 545–560.

McCauley, C., Van Veslor, E., & Ruderman, M. (2010). Introduction: Our viewpoint of leadership development. In E. Van Veslor, C. D. McCauley, & M. N. Ruderman (Eds.), The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development (pp. 1–26). San Francisco, CA: Wiley.

Mintzberg, H. (2009). Managing. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

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