Series on Leadership Development Approaches: Conceptual Understanding
Leadership Development Approaches
The sources of learning in leadership development programs vary according to the context in which the program is embedded, but they are considered the “primary vehicles for delivering leadership development learning activities before, during, and after the leadership development intervention” (Allen & Hartman, 2008a, p. 10). At this point, it may be useful to distinguish between sources of learning and a leadership intervention, which is a more ubiquitous term used to describe a “developmental experience using some form of training, introspection, receiving feedback and exercises to increase the effectiveness of how one leads an individual or group” (Avolio, Avey, & Quisenberry, 2010, p. 635). The type of intervention delivered is influenced by the objectives of the leadership program, but Conger (1992) categorizes these interventions into four broad approaches to leadership capacity development.
In his book, Learning to Lead, Jay Conger (1992) categorizes leadership development programs into four primary domains based on the following approaches: conceptual understanding, personal growth, skill-building, and feedback. For this blog series, I will define each approach and give examples of learning activities practioners associated with each approach.
According to Conger (1992), conceptual understanding is the second most popular leadership development approach, and the primary focus is improving an individual’s knowledge of leadership through the presentation of leadership concepts and models. This approach is often theory-based and is typically delivered through self-paced, classroom, or e-learning environments (Allen & Hartman, 2008a; Conger, 1992). The underlying assumption of this approach is that providing a cognitive understanding of leadership will help facilitate a better perspective of what leadership is and is not (Conger, 1992). Sources of learning like case studies, video clips, lectures, expert panels, tours, storytelling, observation, articles or books, and leadership research are commonly associated with this approach (Allen & Hartman, 2008a; Allen & Hartman, 2009).
Conceptual understanding approaches are typically foundational to any leadership development program, but they should not be the only approach used. Research has found that a combination of approaches works best when trying to develop the human capital of individuals and the social capital of groups.