Authentic Leadership Development: Microwave or Slow Cooker?

Crock Pot Leadership

In other posts, I have tried (with respect) to call-out my colleagues for providing lightweight advice that really doesn’t work for the long haul.

I have asked them to join me in creating what I see as authentic Leadership (Big L) that grows leaders slowly and effectively refines the recipes of up-and-comer leaders like a “crock pot” cooker cooks a delicious recipe over time.

And I ask them to not work to try to create a community of “microwave” leaders (small l) and their entourage of microwave coaches, trainers, charismatic and celebrity experts, etc.

We have all seen the marketing literature offering leadership training, seminars, workshops, executive education, and development.

Same Stuff, Different Day

Some of you have been around for years and we all have participated in one or more of these offerings.

And here we are again … new models, new techniques … new programs … new gurus … same exaggerated promises … same buyer beware marketing … high participation costs … slicker packaging … ego-based (mediated) credentials … same shallow results.

Still we somehow just cannot get enough of “playing” at leadership development.

It is just too much fun at an ego level.

By learning to pretend, I became the character I was miscast to be.”  ~ S Kopp

Leadership As a Profession

So my writings are attempts to awaken the leadership community so they will embrace the assertion that Leadership is, in fact, a profession.

One that requires mastery of a complex set of theories, knowledge and diverse skills through education, a deep professional development practice and extensive practical experience.

Mastering the profession is a lifelong continuous learning and consciousness growth process.

If we can agree on this basic premise then we might also agree that a day or week of development or access to a broad array of “how to” techniques is simply more of the same with predictable results even if the packaging is more appealing, the language cooler and the pitch more narcissistic.

Nuke Me, Baby

While the practitioners of the “microwave” model seem to lack the commitment or awareness to strive for the Big L model, they very much want to appear to be fully competent and achieving as leaders, leadership development experts, experienced and wise coaches, etc.

But the depth of their “expertise” is, at its core, seriously flawed.

The result is a facade and most likely a manifestation of the trickster ego and self-deception.

I know there are many serious Leadership professionals hard at work developing new models (see Integral Leadership as an example) for evolving our profession, remaking leadership development programs, and coaching leaders in taking up the practice in a deeper approach.  So although the Big L Leaders are a minority, they are a growing force.

 What one can be, one must be!”  ~ Abraham Maslow

On Leadership, Growth, and Prosperity

One of our profession’s paradoxes is that everyone sees the leadership profession through their personal filters that are shaped and embedded with the values and beliefs from our total life experience.

So whomever’s model we favor has some knowledge, truth, wisdom, and meaningful lessons along with some biases, inaccuracies, reductionism, and perhaps a few shadow elements that distort the truth of the model’s design.

We know authentic Leadership is critical to the present and future of our country’s economic and business growth and prosperity.

I believe it is also at the heart in shaping our spiritual (ethics and moral) beliefs and values.

To Evolve or Devolve

As a result, Leadership will either contribute to our increasing decline or evolve to help us map the pathway to a new and better future.  And, we must begin to differentiate leadership practices that are “style, surface, symptom” based from those that are “higher consciousness” based.

As life in today’s complex and chaotic world continues to confront us with new and greater challenges, we can evolve, grow, and find the calling of Big L Leadership or continue to pretend we are not pretending.

A time of turbulence is a dangerous time, but its greatest danger is a temptation to deny reality.”  –  Peter Drucker  

How do we achieve higher stage leadership development and show up as our highest self in service to a noble purpose?

Your Leadership Calling

To me, we can best find our leadership calling and our noble purpose through a lifelong search for our authentic self, courageously engaging in deep shadow work to address our self-defeating beliefs and behaviors, and growing in consciousness closer to our spiritual nature – the core of our highest self.

The approach we take in finding out “who we are, really” can bind us to our limited ego self or it can lead us to our limitless authentic self.

We can pretend leadership is nothing more the effective translation of the various value shaping and leadership processes offered today or we can discover that authentic leadership requires us to take the journey into “self.”

This is a bold undertaking that transforms us at a head, heart, and soul level.

Even if what we so devoutly believe we know as reality is radically changed or it is scrapped all together.

Flavor of the Day

From a Leader’s (Big L) point of view, simply leading by translating the latest flavor of the day leadership ideas is not enough to develop us deeply as authentic Leaders who can make a significant difference in today’s world.

In fact, until we awaken and commit to take up the practice of our profession all the seminars, coaching and certifications in the world will only serve to feed and inflate our ego so we can continue to “play house” operating in a leadership role in which we don’t know what we don’t know.

All our stories end the same way – with our ultimate demise.  What legacy will we leavePoseur or authentic leader, what does your inner voice tell you?  A narcissist focused on my ego needs or a servant pursuing a noble purpose in service to others.

So what to do?

“Do everything as if it were the only thing in the world that mattered, while all the time knowing that it doesn’t matter at all.”  ~ Advice Don Juan gave Carlos Castaneda


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Doug Ramsey is Managing Director at Designed Management, LLC
He serves with Company Building, Growth, Leadership Development, and Coaching
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15 responses to “Authentic Leadership Development: Microwave or Slow Cooker?

  1. Wow! Bold statements which took a lot of courage to publish. I agree that each leader must strive to be authentic and true to who they are. I also think learning as much as possible helps each of us by providing the tools and knowledge necessary to grow and become the best we can possibly be (without sacrificing our authenticity).

    Love your focus on authenticity and agree with our need to get our of the “flavor of the month approach” to leadership.


    • Hello Mari,

      Apologies for the slow response. Thank you for reading my blog and for your valuable comments. I agree with you learning about self and others are necessary in finding out who we are, really. My emphasis is that this a lifelong learning process and not a series of fragmented training seminars and guru (so called) lectures, etc. How can we be authentic until we know who we are and what matters to us? So you can call yourself a leader or become one. Those taking the “microwave” path (in my opinion) will miss the deep learning, challenges, and personal growth while failing to achieve authenticity and the perspectives needed to make a true difference.


  2. So a little leadership (little l) training is not a worthwhile pursuit for Leaders or leaders? Most of us aspire to be better leaders of our departments, organizations, communities, families in an authentic way and look forward to picking up new information and learning where we can. Some information is useful and some is hogwash, but the tidbits picked up along the way can be valuable even if Leadership is not a calling.


    • Hello DJ,

      It is good to hear from you. Thank you for reading my blog and for your comments. I am glad you brought this issue up. Leadership (little l) is not about taking training courses. It is about an egocentric view of your leadership expertise and the (mis)use of your limited knowledge and skills in carrying out the roles, responsibilities, and obligations of the Leadership position. It’s about using these courses to convince yourself that you are ready to Lead. I agree that many training opportunities are helpful and valuable ways of learning new ideas, techniques, practices, etc. And, for many people they have an important contribution to make in introducing participants to the subject matter of leadership. You are also correct in saying that not everyone is called to be a Leader (Big L).

      In my opinion, what it comes down to is asking yourself, “in wanting to be a leader what is my purpose.” If its money, power, status, etc. while there is nothing wrong with seeking these things, there is no noble purpose or commitment to serving something greater than yourself. This a tough question and the answer does not come easy and many times, it does not come quickly. Many times the way jobs and career paths are designed in companies; we are pushed into the Leadership profession to get the material and ego rewards we desire.

      Big L Leaders know that they affect the lives of people and not knowing what you don’t know or pretending you are not pretending can do harm to people – sometimes severe harm. This functional blindness can also lead to denial, self-deception, and other avoidance dynamics. Leadership is high touch and high stress because with freedom of action comes obligations to pursue self-development, continuous growth, learning, etc. Because we know, our actions can have far-reaching consequences.

      Unfortunately, tidbits do not lead to consciousness growth and higher emotional intelligence. leaders (littlel) can be effective but rarely do they optimize their own growth and development or the growth and development of the people who call them Leader or the potential of their company. That is why most Big L Leaders take up the practice, take the courageous journey into “self’, seek out mentors and coaches, surround themselves with people who will always tell them the truth about their leadership actions and commit to lifelong growth and development. Hope this makes sense and I look forward to reconnecting soon. Great comments DJ. – Doug


  3. Alleluia, Doug. Most of us (leaders and followers) go though life blind to our truth selves and void of a noble purpose. Those who have the courage and tenactity to do more–to truly understand and use self in service of others–are indeed rare. Thanks for bringing such an important topic to the fore!


    • Hello Ria,

      Apologies for the slow response. Thank you for reading my blog and for your kind words. I agree with you learning about self and others are necessary in finding out who we are, really. The power of the use of “self” effectively in our work is both rare and represents a level of depth that is hard to find. I am glad you enjoyed the blog and that some of the ideas resonant with you. Your feedback is very much appreciated. – Doug


  4. Doug, Doug, Doug…I gotta agree with what you’re espousing here…but then, I don’t think you and I have ever disagreed about what’s wrong…Have we?

    Here’s the rub…these leader guys (particularly those that don’t do the Leadership thing right) likely don’t want to take the time to really understand, comprehend and implement what you preach. They are far too busy with the instant gratification thing, don’t you think?

    So, that’s why I tend to prefer to try to teach by stripping down the message…by simplifying the approach…sort of K.I.S.S. for our profession…

    That in mind, I simply preach: “Do the Right Thing”. That is the “E’ part of what I practice as ESBS (Ethically Simplified Business Solutions)…I know…shameless self-promotion! mdh


    • Hello Mark,

      Apologies for the slow response. Thank you for reading my blog and for usual perceptive comments. That great minds think alike, do not you think. (-: I agree with your assessment of how few professionals decide to take up the practice. That’s why the “microwave” world is so seductive to many aspiring and self proclaimed leaders. I’ve always favored the KISS design and agree clear concise designs work very well. My point is that the “microwave” crowd doesn’t use KISS rather they prefer gross reductionism (flatland) when complex ideas are reduced to clever sayings and sound bites. This design just reinforces the idea that leadership is a dumbed down label and available to anyone who seeks legitimacy. Hope we can reconnect soon. – Doug


  5. Doug – Thank you for the thoughtful/thought provoking post – I have been trying to conjure a leadership “awaking” for many moons.

    Here is the central issue – For generations there have been debates about the concise definition of leadership – which of course, would make it easier to teach — the truth is — it depends.

    Leadership definitions are dependent on the timing, team, situation, fate or internal/external definitions of success and most certainly upon the width or height of your travails. Additionally, it depends if you are speaking of leadership in the arena of business, military, science, religion or politics. And, it depends on whether you’re seeking a descriptor of leaders who are edgy or plain-Jane, powerful or powerless, figureheads or headless figures.

    Leader is a “role” and you can be plucked from a pile, groomed, bubble-up naturally, force-fed into it or quite literally, be the last one standing. And, yes to your point, it can be a professional role. It is brought into play when one is influencing/ guiding/impacting others. Most organizations hold high the tangible metric “results” of the system/process/push and pull, but when it comes to people, the influencers at every level are the true leaders.

    I have come to use a “short-hand” descriptor – Leadership is simply the business of flag flying.

    In other words – do you “fly a flag” that others wish to rally around? I’m suggesting the use of “flag flying” as a metaphor for the “things” you provide when one is “in” the role of “being” a leader.

    It has been my experience that many underestimate the power of “how you are” – which in most cases is equally important to “what you do” — If you empower others and foster an environment of trust and can also get projects done on time, scope and within the budget – what you do, and how you are (both) – travels before and after you. It becomes your “standard” or “flag” – folks are more readily inclined to be attracted by personal/professional “flags” with clear representations of past success (competence & completion) and future success (character & conditions) –


    • Hello Chase,

      Apologies for the slow response. Thank you for reading my blog and for your different and helpful perspectives on this issue. I agree with many of your points. My position is that you are right in pointing out how different circumstances, worldviews, cultures, roles, etc. can influence the situational definition of leadership.

      That said, I believe that every leader who (awakens) takes up the practice, such as it may be in the myriad of situations out there will likely find themselves confronting important issues around the “self” and the perennial questions of who am I, really, why I am I hear, what I am I called to do and what really matters to me, etc. Your metaphor is very cool and I am sure it adds clarity and awareness to this issue. I like the way you think. – Doug


      • Thank you Doug for the reply & I also like the way you think!

        In case anyone is seeking to answer the “perennial questions” – and they should, as you stated – “prior to taking up the practice” – I’m going to divulge my response to the dreaded questions (often asked) by interviewers or seminar instructors: “Why are you here?”

        Most of us know H2O is the elemental symbol used for water. Water is a necessity for human life, but as long as it is readily available consumption becomes blasé. We need water to live, but it is not what most of us live for. Now, if you’ve been without water for a day or two, the thought of finding water might be all-consuming. And, if you run dry of a purposeful intent, then you might find yourself attempting all sorts of hijinks, in order to fill your empty well. The pursuit of a valued purpose can consume a lifetime, but a life in pursuit lacks the living that accompanies confidently knowing where the next drink is coming from.

        I use H2O to frame a context, to serve as a familiar reminder, if you don’t carry your own purpose when you are out walking in the world you are gonna get thirsty and if you get thirsty enough, you might quaff any drink offered to you, even if it’s a cup of B.S. I bring my own purpose wherever I go, and then I don’t desperately guzzle out of someone else’s cup. This is my H2O (Heart/Head Orientation) response to the (big) questions I have asked myself and Doug has mentioned above.

        Use this as a start to defining your own foundational cornerstone, or perhaps just to impress the next interviewer. (Drum roll, please!)

        The Magic Ls (Magical; get it?)
        To labor—To work hard; to exert my energy
        To laugh—To live well; to express joy
        To learn—To gain knowledge of, or skill in, things; to grow
        To lift—To participate in raising things to a higher level
        To light—To provide radiant energy by which I, and/or others, can view a path
        To love—To exalt truth and beauty; to care

        Why these words over all others?

        They convey a positive perspective. They represent the limitless promise and capacity that resides in all of us (as proven by the greats). Most assuredly when applied in concert, this collection of traits separates civilization from beasts. In humanity, these are some damn good reasons for living.


  6. Doug, great perspective and sobering wisdom that leadership requires education, professional development and experience. I agree wholeheartedly that the authentic pros in the field must pick their unique path and follow it for a lifetime.

    I’m hoping this stimulates a sequel – so what do you do to develop the big Leadership skills and experience.

    To initiate the “so what discussion,” I’d add a healthy dimension of assessment to the front-end of leadership development, both to learn about yourself more deeply and learn what others offer as “outside” perspective. That self-assessment must also answer the questions: a) your willingness to sacrifice, b) do you have sustaining curiosity to fuel your learning (plus your “passion” hot-spots), and c) the depth of your selflessness to serve your organizations and followers.

    Next, there must be “building blocks” that establish competencies over a long period of time, drawing from all the formal education, self-help reading and quick-fix seminars / programs. While unique to each individual’s career, industry, and capacity, the building blocks must still be foundational and must be understood.

    I’m hoping you continue to illuminate the topic with your insightful, experienced and stimulating writing style.


    • Hello Gary,

      Apologies for the slow response. Thank you for reading my blog, your kind words, and perspectives on this issue. I think a sequel may be in the works so stay tuned. I agree personal assessment on the front end would be valuable. Especially if it is focused on the leader’s interiors and provides clear feedback on consciousness level, EQ, shadow elements, and current stage of development. I am sure there are many other important areas I have left out.

      But my point is that most of us don’t truly understand or take the opportunity to find out who we are, really while working to develop multiple perspectives that expand our worldview. I like the building blocks idea because this is a lifelong undertaking and the structure you propose is in stark contrast to the “microwave” approach.

      I believe in order for this to happen on a large scale it will take higher awareness, courage, dedication to a noble purpose, and knowing our calling so our internal drives and motivations will remain true and strong. Thanks again for your comments and engaging this issue as a serious challenge to developing present and future Leaders (Big L). – Doug


  7. Hi Doug. Thank you for this thought provoking blog. My short interpretation of what you have said is that Leaders must know and Lead themselves before they Lead others. May I introduce the concept of Leaders accepting themselves? In this context acceptance is a proactive, positive and flexible behaviour rather than a passive, shoulder-shrugging, psychologically rigid response. (I have the description of acceptance in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in mind.)

    Thank you also for introducing the notion of Professional Leadership. In my experience leaders are recruited to higher positions based on their technical expertise and experience rather than oin their ability or potential ability to lead.

    Best wishes – Steve


  8. Pingback: Why We Fake Authentic Leadership and How to Stop « Linked 2 Leadership·

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