What is a leadership barrier?

Barriers to Leadership, Career Challenges, Leadership Development, Self-driven Leadership Development

The second step in my Self-Driven Leadership Development model is about breaking down barriers.  What does that mean?

 Definition:  A barrier to leadership is a systemic process or attitude that commonly prevents a group of people from moving into leadership roles and being successful in the workplace.

 The “systemic” part of the definition means that barriers are broad-based and apply to most if not all people of a certain group.  It is a shared experience, instead of being a unique situation applied to one person.

Leadership barriers can be process based.  This refers to specific policies and procedures in an organization that might work against some people who aspire to leadership roles or to other types of career advancement .  With advances in civil rights and equal workplaces, these are less common.

More commonly, leadership barriers are about attitudes that keep certain groups out of leadership roles.  Attitudes can refer to overt discrimination, unintentional discrimination, social norms, perceptions and more.  These are often ingrained psychological beliefs and biases that many people are not aware of.  Their subtlety is what makes them so dangerous.

Different barriers exist for different groups.  We’ll consider barriers for geeks and women and minorities and the disabled and even career changers.  In addition to these group-specific barriers, there are some common leadership barriers such as stereotypes about successful leaders and person-organization fit.

 As an example, a well-known barrier to leadership for women is “the glass ceiling”.  That phrase even creates an image of a physical barrier.  The glass ceiling is a statement about the fact that a barrier exists.  It does not actually define the meaning or cause of the barrier.   The concept of the glass ceiling is related to attitudes such as role stereotypes, the “good ole boy” network and “good girl” socialization.

In this model, leadership barriers do not cover personal weaknesses such as poor skills and behaviors.  Those are covered during step 3 of the Self-driven Leadership Development process that deals with individual competencies needed to be a successful leader.

Four steps of the Self-Driven Leadership Development process

  1. Own your future
  2. Break down barriers
  3. Learn critical leadership skills
  4. Apply your skills to your work

Leadership Barriers model:


leadership barriers model

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