The reality of developing leadership is considerably different than the fantasy of it.

The fantasy is that you’ll then begin to develop people’s leadership and they’ll find it challenging, like learning how to play the piano can be challenging, but will ultimately thank you for your effort.

People make investments in their own leadership and coaching based on the fantasy they have about how things will unfold as they step into leadership.

Because the fantasy looks awesome and “piano-lesson hard” people tend to diminish the importance and necessity of getting their own structures of support.

Sure, it’ll be tough, but you’ve done tough things before. You operate at a higher level than most people, so these people suggesting really committing to your structures of support probably just didn’t have it figured out the way you do.

Leadership is a little like creative work. Because everyone has engaged with it on some level, everyone assumes that they are good at it. And, the longer you’ve been engaging with this kind of work, without very powerful feedback, the more entrenched you become in that perspective.

To complete the cycle, the more entrenched you become, the more resistant you get to the feedback that would really change the game for you.

As a result of all this, a lot of leaders expect that their direct-reports, clients and “leadees” will be grateful of the opportunity to have their leadership developed.

In fact, the reality of developing leadership is that you will enroll people in the possibility of them stepping into what is next for themselves and then…

Then they will immediately go about convincing you that they don’t want that thing, and resist every attempt you make to invite them forwards into what’s next.

This is the nature of being a human. Leadership involves stepping beyond the world we know into whatever lies beyond, and we will innately resist doing so.

(Aside: Those of you shaking your head and saying “Not me, I innately run towards the unknown” will be the ones most blind to your own resistance. The more you are certain you won’t or don’t have resistance, the harder it is for you to come to terms with how it’s showing up.)

So you have people inevitably resisting the leadership development they asked for only days earlier.

Because most people resist being supported in their leadership development, a couple things are at play. First, the leaders haven’t walked through this resistance themselves, so they can’t recognize and empathize with it in their direct report.

Second, because they lack the empathy and the training, they make it significant. They start to conclude things like “This person simply isn’t a candidate for leadership”, “Sometimes it’s just not developing someone’s leadership”, “People are just dumb and aren’t willing to listen to me”, and all manner of other things.

The actual content of the conclusion isn’t really relevant. What matters is this:

The leader is frustrated by the resistance they are encountering in their direct report. And, most importantly, the leader is unaware that they themselves are in resistance to the way their direct report is showing up.

In order to support someone to move through this process, you have to have walked through it yourself (again and again).

The reality of developing leadership is challenging, heartbreaking, and at times, infuriating. On the other side of that, it’s the most beautiful work in the world.

Don’t go it alone.