Sink or Swim Leadership Development

Ron Heifetz, a Leadership lecturer at Harvard University, taught me that one of the best ways to develop leaders is to throw them into the deep end of the pool and not necessarily throw them a life preserver. You can provide coaching, guidance, and provocative questions, but you must let them figure out the solutions themselves. During one of my Leadership Alchemy Program sessions at Goddard, I saw Heifetz’s “sink or swim” leadership development method in action.

The student was a NASA senior manager leading an expensive – in the millions of dollars – space project and had the opportunity to request funding. He didn’t want to blow the presentation but was intimidated by the people he would be presenting to. He felt like the presentation itself put him on unequal footing with people who were going to evaluate and assess his capabilities.

In this video, I illustrate how I applied Heifetz’s “sink or swim” leadership development during a training session with the student. I let him stew in the problem; what he came up with amazed me. A simple solution with enormous implications that he executed with success.

Providing leadership training to hundreds of senior managers at NASA through their Leadership Alchemy Program was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. Watching him develop his solution and then use it to succeed was a great pleasure.

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Email me if you want more information on leadership development, grand challenges, or leading change.

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