An Holistic Approach to Leadership Development - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #383

An Holistic Approach to Leadership Development

This is one of our free-to-access content pieces. To gain access to all Ideas for Leaders content please Log In Here or if you are not already a Subscriber then Subscribe Here.
Main Image
Main Image


Leadership development tends to focus on behavioural competencies, and how these can be attuned to create more effective leaders. This Idea takes a different approach: look beyond competencies and consider inner experiences as well. Such a holistic approach can help organizations and their leaders utilize a broader repertoire of responses to difficult situations.


Traditionally, research on leadership development has put behavioural competencies under the spotlight; training, coaching, on-the-job experiences and mentoring are all intended to facilitate the development of these behaviours. But are these models too simplistic and incomplete for today’s complex business environment?

In a White Paper published by the Center for Creative Leadership, Marian N. Ruderman, Cathleen Clerkin and Carol Connolly argue that it is time to adopt a broader view, one that opens the door for knowledge from the brain-based sciences and contemplative practices. They propose a multi-dimensional model of leadership called a “Beyond Competencies Model,” which includes the working of leaders’ inner experiences (i.e. physiological, emotional and mental processes) as well as their visible actions.

According to Ruderman, Clerkin and Connolly, helping leaders understand their inner world leads to increased self-awareness, adaptive behaviours and responses, and more effective leadership. Their Beyond Competencies Model is made up of the following three components:

  1. Circuitry: this refers to the physical, chemical and neurological functioning of our bodies, which can influence behaviours. For example, learning how the brain processes pleasure and pain increases the understanding of how we navigate the world. Feeling pain at work can manifest in the shape of not making a deadline, being passed over for a promotion, losing a client, etc. While these contemporary triggers of pain may not have dire consequences, our bodies still react as if it were a life and death situation, secreting cortisol and other hormones that gear up the body for quick action.
  2. Inner Content: this refers to things like raw emotions, gut reactions and inner dialogue. These inner experiences define our relationships with ourselves, as well as shape our beliefs and emotional reactions to thoughts and situations. In fact, inner content can be considered a hidden compass that shifts the direction of leadership behaviour.
  3. Conscious Engagement: this is the ability to observe, modify and regulate mental processes. Whereas circuitry and inner content flow constantly, continually and often automatically, it is with awareness and practice that these processes can be directed. As such, this area offers the most potential for development in leaders, as conscious engagement allows them to choose a more mindful response to difficult situations.


Many organizations already acknowledge that the ‘mind’ is important and that cognitive health matters. According to a Financial Times report from 2012, 25% of US companies now have stress-reduction programs; in addition, many world-renowned companies such as General Mills, Target and Apple, have begun to offer time and pace for contemplative practice, such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness, etc. Similarly, Google has sleeping pods for employees to catch up on sleep when needed.

Overall, the message from Ruderman, Clerkin and Connolly is that when looking at leadership development, though the focus should not be shifted entirely from behavioural competencies, it is important for organizations to also expand their gaze to look beyond competencies; this will help to bring many new supportive leadership practices to light. In other words, actively notice and be with what is happening in order to employ a broader repertoire of responses. 



Leadership Development Beyond Competencies: Moving to a Holistic Approach. Marian N. Ruderman, Cathleen Clerkin & Carol Connolly. CCL® White Paper (May 2014).

Ideas for Leaders is a free-to-access site. If you enjoy our content and find it valuable, please consider subscribing to our Developing Leaders Quarterly publication, this presents academic, business and consultant perspectives on leadership issues in a beautifully produced, small volume delivered to your desk four times a year.



Idea conceived

May 29, 2014

Idea posted

May 2014
challenge block
Can't find the Idea you are after?
Then 'Challenge Us' to source it.


For the less than the price of a coffee a week you can read over 650 summaries of research that cost universities over $1 billion to produce.

Use our Ideas to:

  • Catalyse conversations with mentors, mentees, peers and colleagues.
  • Keep program participants engaged with leadership thinking when they return to their workplace.
  • Create a common language amongst your colleagues on leadership and management practice
  • Keep up-to-date with the latest thought-leadership from the world’s leading business schools.
  • Drill-down on the original research or even contact the researchers directly

Speak to us on how else you can leverage this content to benefit your organization.