Yin Leadership Development


There is a changing of the guard in the American workplace. Boomers are retiring. Busters remain only a small minority. Millennials are now the majority. Generation 2020 is coming. With the current shift in organizational demographics and leadership, the need for effective leadership development programs has never been greater. Large numbers of emerging leaders are in immediate need of effective training that will equip them to take open leadership chairs much sooner than previous generations. Many of these leadership development programs, however, are ineffective for a number of reasons. They’re too often off-the-shelf canned programs based almost exclusively on classroom type learning (not learning by doing on the job or in relationship with others). They are also unfortunately often only offered to the very most senior leaders, those deemed worthy of development investment, in the organization (don’t go deep enough to all levels and different kinds of leaders). In addition, the effectiveness of many development programs is questioned by those who are currently participating. Why?

One key additional reason that these programs may prove ineffective is that they often unknowingly reflect a cultural bias concerning the nature and requisite traits of leadership. In the West, leadership is too often seen as the domain of extroverts. Leadership, under this paradigm, is almost synonymous with extroversion.

From ancient eastern philosophy, we derive the concept of life understood as the proper balance of yin and yang. The Western concept of leadership is most often yang. Yang leaders are charismatic, happy, outgoing, aggressive, results-oriented extroverts who are focused on the bottom line results and winning in business. Yin leaders are different. They tend to be more focused on the longer-term, on team health, on the well-being of the group, on making reasoned and wise choices as the result of careful and thorough analysis.

These yin leaders, due in large part to the effects of living in a culture around them that frequently invalidates their leadership style, even in small ways, have a unique set of needs and challenges that need to be addressed in the context of effective leadership development. First, they need to be told the truth that counters any number of cultural myths they have been told about who they are or why they are ill-suited for leadership. Once, they see the bias and the truth, they need to work through the personal impact of that bias and to thoughtfully reframe their previous ideas of their strengths and weaknesses and of the nature of leadership itself. Yang-biased programs won’t help them learn to be the authentic yin leaders they are.

Leadership development as a whole and programs seeking to advance it need to reflect this important reality to be effective among yin leaders. The truth is that yin leaders comprise over half of the present and future leaders in your organization and that over half of your employees they will lead in the future are introverted. Pushing yin leaders through yang programs that encourage them to become someone other than who they are has a deeply detrimental impact on their overall sense of identity, leadership effectiveness, and contribution to the overall success and health of the company.

The best leadership development strategies reflect the understanding that each leader needs to be equipped to lead from their naturally recurring strengths, as their authentic self. Leadership development can’t afford to be approached as a one-size-fits-all task. Not if it’s going to provide the leaders needed in response to the changing workforce.

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