Morgan McCall on the Tasks of Leadership

The Five Demands of Leadership (Recasting Leadership Development)

Dr. Morgan McCall, Jr., writing about the lessons learned re leadership development, analyzed thousands of case histories – descriptions of particular experiences that executives reported as having shaped them and the lessons they learned therein. The data sorted into five large chunks that reflected what leaders must be able to do.

  • Set direction and build an organization capable of achieving it: (Establishing and communicating the purpose, vision, mission, and creating the architecture such that the structure, processes, rewards, and HR practices are consistent with that direction and each other)
  • Aligning critical constituencies: (Through the use of authority, persuasion, negotiation, or other means, making sure that the people and groups necessary to achieving the mission understand it and are aligned with it, and those that present obstacles are dealt with)
  • Developing an executive temperament: (Developing the ability and confidence necessary to cope effectively with pressures, ambiguity, complexity and frustrations of a leadership role)
  • Setting and living values: (Through actions as well as words, conveying and reinforcing what the organization, and you as a leader, believe in and stand for)
  • Growth of self and others: (Taking the necessary actions to insure that one’s self and one’s people continue to learn, grow and change)

Leadership is about creating a context in which other people will bring their talents to bear on the strategic issues of the organization, and that context is created by how effectively leaders meet these demands. More importantly, the lessons of experience by definition confirm that leadership can be learned (truth is, some leaders are born or have “natural abilities”…but heredity only accounts for about 30% of the variance)! Acquiring leadership expertise requires mastery of a large domain of knowledge, skills, and abilities, and occurs over a lifetime of effort. It requires years of intentional effort and practice, and it “demands playing on edge.”

Summary Prepared by Ed Piccolino, Ph.D.