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Making Leadership Actionable: What We Are Learning and How We Can Use It
By Russ Volckmann, Ph.D. ____________________________________________________________

____________ Academic Citation: Russ Volckmann, “Making Leadership Actionable: What We Are Learning and How We Can Use It,” Kravis Leadership Institute, Leadership Review, Vol. 6, Summer 2006, pp. 92-103. About the Author: RussVolkmann, Ph.D., was an organization development consultant for over 20 years and has been focused on executive coaching and leadership development since 1997. He is a leader in the development of an innovative Integral Executive Leadership Program for coaching executive teams, as well as individual executives. E-mail: russ@leadcoach.com Key words: Leader, leadership development, advice, learning,emergence, coaching, scenarios, context. Abstract
Much of the popular and academic literature on leadership has led to advice about what is required for effective leadership. This advice is usually flawed in that it does not provide guidance for how to learn to effectively apply the advice or because the advice is based on the practices of an individual in a specific context, a context that may or maynot apply to the learner’s situation. An approach to leadership development based on seeing leadership as an emergent phenomenon, rather than just something that an individual does, is suggested.

INTRODUCTION When we scan the literature on leadership, we find many books and articles representing the principles and practices of the individual leader. Much of this work, despite the level ofresearch or experience that underlies it, amounts to prescriptions—a list of “shoulds” advising how to be a successful and effective leader. There is nothing inherently wrong with such prescriptions. Indeed, it is valuable to have the products of consultant and academic research. It is valuable to know about the lessons of leadership gleaned from leaders like Jack Welch (2001) or from the observationsof consultants. And it is valuable to consider models of leadership offered by people like Jim Collins (2001) and his notion of level 5 leadership. It is important to consider the approach of Goleman, et al (2002) with its focus on emotional intelligence and leadership. Chris Argyris (2000) has, however, challenged all of us to rethink our work on leadership and other management and business topicsfrom the point of view of whether the advice or models are truly actionable. Argyris does not debate that much of the advice offered in most of the publications on leadership is thoughtful, has good intentions and can even be
Leadership Review, Kravis Leadership Institute, Claremont McKenna College, Vol. 6, Summer 2006


enlightening. Instead, he questions the efficacy of such advice inguiding effective leadership behavior. Argyris (2000, pp.7-8) offers three tests for the validity of advice. Valid advice “leads to the consequences that it predicts will occur, 2) its effectiveness persists so long as no unforeseen conditions interfere, and 3) it can be implemented and tested in the world of everyday practice.” He goes on to state: “There are four tests for the actionability ofadvice. It specifies the detailed, concrete behaviors required to achieve the intended consequences; it must be crafted in the form of designs [for action —rv] that contain causal statements; people must have, or be able to be taught the concepts and skills required to implement those causal statements; and the context in which it is to be implemented does not prevent its implementation.”Therefore, when we are considering how useful our work on leadership theory and development is, these questions must be addressed: • Do the behaviors that we are advocating lead directly and unequivocally to the results we intend? • Are we clear about causal relationships between actions and results? • Can people learn to recognize and respond to situations to use the recommended skills and concepts? •...