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Leadership Development: Clone or Mold?

March 12th, 2012 by Michelle Del Rosario
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What does a leader look like today?

It’s not easy to define.  When I started out in leadership development, everyone wanted to clone Jack Welch from GE.  “If we could just clone Jack and what his folks do at Crotonville, we would have strong leadership bench strength,” the predominant thinking went.  In fact, going to Crotonville and seeing GE’s operations and methods was on every leadership development professional’s bucket list.

In the past 10-15 years:

  • Industries have become incredibly specialized niches, requiring highly specific knowledge and deep networks
  • Awareness of regional leadership differences has dawned on many global organizations
  • Authenticity has become more acceptable, even preferred, in leaders in many companies and regions
  • Business success has begun to demand ability to work across boundaries, often in culture-specific ways
  • Technology and globalization have combined to require the skills and knowledge to operate virtually

Today, leaders simply cannot be cloned or borrowed from other companies or industries.  Organizations must develop their own leaders with skills and personal attributes that fit the company’s vision, mission, and values.  In other words, leaders must be molded, not cloned.

Leadership Today

Today’s leaders:

  • Can dive into multiple parts of the organization with multi-disciplinary knowledge
  • Have strong cultural acumen and are able to adapt to different environments and cultures
  • Are asked to lead in a virtual world, which requires developing their ability to engage in meaningful virtual interactions with a variety of stakeholders, in and outside the organization

In days past, we would ask participants in a leadership course to identify someone with strong leadership skills.  Common answers would include:  Mother Teresa; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Mahatma Gandhi; and John F. Kennedy.

Today, asking this question is not as effective in identifying strong leaders.  Today, some better questions might be:

  • Who in our company has strong leadership skills? (company-specific).  
  • Would he or she be an effective leader in our Dubai or Pune offices? (cultural acumen)
  • How does this leader provide leadership in a virtual environment? (virtual leadership)
  • What knowledge of the various functions and disciplines in our organization does this person have? (multi-functional and multi-discipline knowledge)

These questions get more at the heart of molding leaders to be effective within a specific company, to develop cultural acumen (if needed), and to increase knowledge and skill in operating in a virtual and multi-functional environment.

Agent 007’s catch phrase was “shaken, not stirred.”






We’re thinking our own new catch phrase might be “molded, not cloned.”  (Okay, that’s not nearly as cool.  Let’s stick with what Bond said.)


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Michelle Del Rosario

Executive Consultant at Forum
Michelle joined Forum in 2011 as an executive consultant. In her role, she is responsible for providing insight, advice and learning design expertise to our clients and potential clients by working in close partnership with Sales and Delivery.

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6 Responses to “Leadership Development: Clone or Mold?”

  1. I ask many groups that I work with when facilitating to “Name a Captain of Industry Today. Someone you admire and would want to work for.” Most of the time, I don’t get an answer. Welch would not be one of my choices as his philosophy of firing the bottom 15% of the people is to me immoral and not real smart as one of those people might just be a late bloomer who could make a significant contribution to their organization. The other reason is if the people are not up to standards, then it is the hiring manager’s fault for poor selection. Leaders lead people! Managers manage processes.

  2. Tathagat says:

    I think another key thing in today’s dynamic and uncertain environments is the ability to question status-quo and bring about changes that might seem to ‘threaten’ short-term survival but ensure a long-term growth. The ability to depart from ‘more of same’ and commence on the path of exploration of what will make sense – and take the entire organization alongwith – is a key ability that will determine whether some organization stays on a linear growth path of survival, or indeed breaks out and get on the growth trajectory of growth and continued success.

  3. Michelle Del Rosario says:

    Glenn, Very interesting that your participants have no answer to point to for a Captain of Industry. I find with my students (I teach graduate school leadership) when asked a similiar question, they name local folks or somoene close to them, rather than identifying some well know person.

  4. Michelle Del Rosario says:

    I would agree that questioning the status quo is a critical competency. We tend to look at this in terms of risk taking. A lot of organizations recognize the need to promote risk taking but sometimes run into the dilemna of risk taking in a collobrative environment.

  5. Excellent article. Glad I saved the link in my inbox until I had sufficient time to read and think through.

    I wonder why you did not include an ability to coach and motivate as part of a leadership skill set. I cannot see anyone being an effective leader today without having these skills in place.

    Glenn’s point on leading people and managing processes is spot on. If he asked me for a Captain of Industry I would work for, I would quickly reply Sir Richard Branson! Not sure there’s anyone else though.

  6. […] 27th, 2012 by Forum Corporation “Mold, not Clone.”  That is the challenge we issued in our March 12th blog post on developing leaders to fit your organization’s culture.  And your challenge back to us might […]

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