Think about your first leadership experiences. Were they after your college graduation, when you launched your career? Probably not! Many individuals’ first leadership experiences have to do with playing with other kids, participating in sports teams, collaborating on artistic endeavors, or through educational attainment. We encourage our children to have a broad array of experiences – learning in schools, volunteering in their communities, and participating in family chores and experiences. These “character-building” opportunities are also leadership experiences. Such activities continue through college, as students become involved in student life, sororities and fraternities, sports, student-led groups and student government, etc. But then it seems to stop.
Colleges accept well-rounded applicants – ones that stand out due to leadership experiences. Organizations look for recruits with something special – again, leadership experience. But after joining an organization, our focus on leadership tends to be on development and training within the organization. This can make individuals reliant upon their managers to recognize their leadership potential, and some end up being left behind.
But what if we continue to treat leadership development as something that can happen anywhere – at home, in the community, and also at work? What if managers asked their employees about experiences coaching their kids’ softball team, organizing a parent-teacher fundraiser, or caring for an elderly parent? All of these experiences also require leadership expertise and can be developmental in nature. This is what multi-domain leadership (MDL) is about – tapping into the experiences we have every day and using them to help create and solidify a leader identity. The more variability we confront in everyday situations, the better we become at diagnosing which leadership competency is relevant for each experience. MDL is about creating a leadership toolkit through varied life experiences that allows us to be more effective wherever our leadership challenge lies.