Dr. Kathleen Boies
Concordia University

Leadership Development Outside the Classroom: Learning from Experience

Canadian organizations are currently facing a leadership shortage, which will amplify as baby boomers retire and there are fewer workers available to replace them. At the same time, and paradoxically, many organizations have fewer resources for leader development and are shifting the responsibility for career development back to employees. Thus, rather than providing formal structures and programs to develop leaders, many organizations seem to be relying on the hope (or belief) that workers will learn simply from experience when they are thrown into leadership roles. Research in the area of leader development, however, has by and large focused on the evaluation of formal training programs and has not explored other ways in which individuals can develop leadership skills. A fundamental assumption in my research is that leadership skills can be acquired, and that leader(ship) development is a lifelong process, influenced by significant life events. In this talk, I will present evidence from two ongoing investigations which document that leadership skills can be acquired outside of formal programs, but I will also argue that formal mechanisms should be put in place to systematize this development. This is important because without formal mechanisms in place for learning to occur, it is anything but certain that workers will acquire leadership skills on the job.