Leader development across the lifespan: A dynamic experiences-grounded approach


  • Zhengguang Liu


Leadership, Leader development, Experiences, Life span


Previous research has established leader development as an ongoing process across the entire lifespan. Experience, especially on-the-job experience, has been increasingly acknowledged as a needed condition for leader development. From a life span developmental perspective, however, individuals are exposed to a variety of critical experiences across their life course—from preschool, childhood, through adolescence, emerging adulthood, adulthood and well into late adulthood. These time periods, characterized by specific developmental experiences, serve as potential windows of opportunity for one's leader development. However, the extant research primarily focuses on the development of leadership through on-the-job experiences in adulthood; there is little integration of leader developmental experiences that occur before and after adulthood, as well as those that occur beyond the workplace. Additionally, the influencing mechanism of experiences during the leader development process has been understudied. Using an interdisciplinary perspective, we present a framework that explores the critical developmental experiences at each stage in the lifespan. These experiences influence one's expertise in leadership through the mediating role and dynamic interaction of the leader experience processing system and the leader self-view system that are introduced in the model of this framework. This theoretical study systematically explores experiential opportunities across the course of life and within multiple contexts, as well as the underlying mechanisms that foster leader development. There are important implications for enhancing process-oriented leadership research and leadership pedagogical practices.