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Leader and Leadership Development: What’s the Difference?

Why does it matter?

Leadership is one of the most widely studied, yet least understood subjects (Jackson & Parry, 2011).  Thoughts about leadership and the approach to studying leadership have evolved greatly during the last 100 years. In the organizational context, this interest, and the large investments in leadership development, is warranted because “leadership is increasingly recognized by organizations as a source of competitive advantage” (Bilhuber & Müller-Stewens, 2012, p. 176). In the community context, “leadership programs have arisen as one venue to reduce the gap between a community’s needs and the supply of leaders committed to supporting future community involvement” (Ringler, 2011, p. 172)  For these reasons, Day (2000) writes that interest in the field of leadership development “appears to be at its zenith” (p. 581).

In the 20 years there has been a move within the field of leadership to distinguish between the development of an individual’s capacity to lead and the development of a group’s shared capacity to lead (Day, 2000).  Prior to this shift, leader development and leadership development were largely indistinguishable in the literature. This evolution of thought is commonly attributed to the seminal review and synthesis of leadership literature by Day (2000), who distinguished leader development from leadership development

Leader Development – Human Capital Focus

Day (2000) contends that the emphasis in leader development “is on individual based knowledge, skills, and abilities associated with formal leadership roles” (p. 584).  From this perspective, skills and abilities are often referred to as leader competencies (Van Velsor, McCauley, & Ruderman, 2010).  The competencies taught in leader development programs vary according to the needs of the organization or community in which the program is embedded.  However, Day (2000) presents self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-motivation as intrapersonal competencies commonly associated with this individualistic approach to leader development.  The underlying assumption is that the development of these competencies will expand an individual’s capacity to be effective in leadership roles and processes (Van Velsor, McCauley, & Ruderman, 2010).

When competencies are the focus of leader development, theories of adult learning and behavior change inform the understanding of the development process (Allen, 2007).  Thus, Day (2000) contends that an outcome of developing an individual’s knowledge, skills, and abilities is human capital.  Human capital can be defined as “any stock of knowledge or characteristics an individual has, either innate or acquired that contributes to his or her productivity” (Acemoglu & Autor, 2009, p. 3).  For example, an individual’s cognitive ability, including emotional awareness and self-control, represent attributes of human capital.

Leadership Development – Social Capital Focus

In contrast, Day (2000) contends that the “primary emphasis in leadership development is on building and using interpersonal competence” (p. 585).  Interpersonal competencies commonly associated with leadership development are social awareness and other social skills (Day, 2000).  The underlying assumption is that the development of these competencies will help individuals “understand how to relate to others, coordinate their efforts, build commitments, and develop extended social networks by applying self-understanding to social and organizational imperatives”  (Day, 2000, p. 586).  Therefore, leadership development places more emphasis on the relational and collective nature of leadership in the context of organizations, industries, or groups (Day, 2000).

Day (2000) contends that an outcome of this relational approach to fostering coordination, cooperation, and unity is social capital.  In contrast to human capital approaches, social capital oriented approaches focus “on building networked relationships among individuals that enhance cooperation and resource exchange in creating organizational value” (Day, 2000, p. 585).  Thus, the relationships that constitute an individual’s social network, as well as the trust, norms or reciprocity, and shared goals associated with those relationships represent the dimensions of social capital.

Shared Language Matters

Having shared language and meaning is important for Extension personnel because it allows us to communicate plainly about the target of our developmental efforts.  As such, both human and social capital play an important role in the development of opinion leaders, but we need to be more clear about our specfic activites and the capital(s) they aim to develop.

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