Can leader development happen without a formalized system for leadership development? In short, it can, however, it will not provide the results desired. Leader development is the expansion of a person’s capacity to be effective in leadership roles and processes (Van Velsor et al., 2010). A common misconception is that some people are leaders and others are not, and so the assumption is that leader development must begin with assessing who is and is not a leader, placing classifications on them, and then funneling those classified as leaders through a process of development. Everyone leads in one capacity or another (Van Velsor et al., 2010). As a disciple of Christ, his final words to go and make disciples (Mt. 28:19-20) was not simply directed at an elect group of people who qualified for leadership, it was directed at everyone who is his disciple. So, rather than classifying individuals as leaders and nonleaders, approach leader development with the assumption that everyone can learn and grow in ways that make them more effective as leaders (Van Velsor et al., 2010).
In my own experience in training leaders, I have been a part of systems that developed skills and abilities in the context of leadership but did not provide an intentional, systematic approach to leader development itself. The results were successful in the skill and ability growth, and leader development occurred, but it occurred with haphazard results that were inconsistent. The main elements of leader development, assessment, challenge, and support, were present (Van Velsor et al., 2010), however, the focus was on the skills, not on the individuals as leaders. In order to have consistent results in leader development, the system must be intentional about desired outcomes and consistent in the application for all individuals.
Van Velsor, E., McCauley, C. D., Ruderman, M. N., & Center for Creative Leadership (Eds.). (2010). The Center for Creative Leadership handbook of leadership development (3rd ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.