David Campbell

Creator, Campbell Interest and Skills Survey
Colorado Springs, Colorado

David Campbell, ASTD's 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, is best known as the creator of a leading career inventory, the Campbell Interest and Skills Survey (CISS), and a suite of leadership and development surveys. A pioneer in leadership assessment, Campbell joined the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) in 1974 as a visiting fellow and later served as executive vice president, becoming CCL's first Smith Richardson Senior Fellow in 1981. He played a key role in founding CCL's Colorado Springs campus and in developing the center's innovative Leadership at the Peak (LAP) program.

Campbell's books include If You Don't Know Where You're Going, You'll Probably End Up Somewhere Else and If I'm in Charge Here, Why is Everybody Laughing? More recently, he published the Campbell Development Surveys, which analyze working interests, skills, leadership performance, and teamwork.

His honors include being named a distinguished psychologist in management by the Society for Psychologists in Management, receiving the Distinguished Professional Contributions Award from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Colorado.

Campbell earned his BS and MS degrees from Iowa State University and a doctorate in psychology from the University of Minnesota, where he served as a professor of psychology before joining CCL in 1974. After 35 years, Campbell retired from CCL in 2008.

Your educational background is in psychology; how did you ultimately come to focus on leadership?

I wandered into psychology, like many people do, accidentally. My undergraduate degree was in chemistry. I never particularly liked it, but I thought I was going to medical school so I stayed with it. But then, in my senior year, I took a couple of courses in psychology and found out that I really liked them but, at that point, it was too late to do anything about it.

I graduated and went to work for Procter & Gamble in a soap factory and was a management trainee for two years. During that time, I decided soap was not my destiny so I went back to graduate school. I didn't know much about psychology, and I was confused as to whether to go into clinical or child or social or experimental, etc. I decided to go into statistics and measurement because those were tools that I could use in any area.

And that has proven to be the case. I became quite interested in career interest measurement and was active in developing surveys in that area, and stayed on the faculty of the University of Minnesota for 14 years. Then because of my psychological testing background, I received an invitation to spend a year at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina, which was just starting up and needed some assessment help.

I left the university life and began working at CCL where there was a strong focus on psychological assessment, so my background stood me in good stead. I became fascinated with the topic of leadership and that has driven the rest of my career.

You helped CCL achieve massive organizational growth. What is the one thing that you are most proud of about your experience there?

That's easy: the two courses that we developed—the Leadership Development Program (LDP) for mid-level and younger managers, and Leadership at the Peak (LAP) for people who are at or near the peak of their organization. Both are one week long and are saturated with assessment, feedback, and group facilitation techniques. Those courses have been popular and remarkably durable. LDP was started in 1974, and LAP in 1983; they have both been upgraded several times but overall are pretty much the same.

The programs have consistently been rated by the London Financial Times among the top 10 leadership programs internationally. They have been fascinating to work in. I've met literally hundreds of participants with diverse personalities from a wide range of settings, and they have consistently given the courses high ratings. The courses have been CCL's key offerings over a 35-year period.

You stated that in terms of leadership, the only constant you've seen among leaders is an "energetic drive to make a difference." Why do you think that is?

Leadership has many flavors but whether it is military, corporate, government, athletic, or musical leadership, there is a lot of duplication of content over the different settings. For example, everybody believes in vision no matter what area you are working in. Another constant is that it takes a lot of work to make things happen.

Anyone who wants to perform successfully in a leadership position has to have an internally intense drive to make things happen, particularly to make new things happen and not just to maintain a status quo. The need for intensity cuts across all leadership areas.

What do you think has changed most drastically among leaders of those different industries and sectors?

The biggest change is a general tendency toward more complexity, which is highly reflected in time schedules. When I first became a professional years ago, you could work on a project for months or even years. Then you could leisurely write up a report on a manual typewriter, give a draft to secretaries, who would type it up more professionally, then we'd do another draft or two, and eventually something would be finished.

And the same pace was kind of true in leadership training. It was much more leisurely. Things started changing with the introduction of the IBM Selectric electric typewriter. All of a sudden papers were typed faster, and then along came fax machines so they could be transmitted much more quickly and then FedEx came in so you could now send things overnight. Then came the Internet, and smartphones. Now, everything is instant. The timeframe for projects, reports, and decisions has really become compressed.

What do you see as the top two or three trends in leadership development?

One of the most intriguing developments is in an area called boundary leadership. I didn't understand what that meant at first but I kept seeing references to it. What boundary leadership means is leadership in a situation where there are a lot of individual players, many organizations, and nobody is quite in charge. Managing the war in Afghanistan is a good example. There are lots of "chiefs" there.

The other big change is globalization. CCL is now using about 16 different languages, a real achievement. That means the center now searches out people who speak these languages and are well trained in what we do. This is a deliberate attempt to deal with the globalization of training and development.

Another related change is an emphasis on what is generally called diversity—dealing with groups from different ethnicities, different religions, and so forth—and that is growing. Most people are not aware that the United States is arguably the most tolerant country in the world. For example, America takes in more legal immigrants each year than the rest of the world put together, so we put a lot of pressure on our organizations to be adaptable.

Can you tell us about any new projects that you have coming up in the near future?

Interestingly enough, I've become involved in the area of diversity. I was asked to do a program on it, and I concluded that current programs tend to focus on only race and gender, yet there are many other ways to be biased. For example, some people don't like military officers, some people don't like religious leaders, some people think artists are flaky, [and] some people think jocks are dumb. (I was captain of the Iowa State baseball team.)

I wanted to create a program that covered more areas. Also, I noticed that many diversity programs were blaming, chiding, and scolding. I wanted to put together something that was more fun, lively, and not threatening. As it happens, for the last 25 years, I've been collecting picture postcards of groups of people, and I now have thousands, ranging from Japanese geishas to Norwegian Laplanders to NBA players to Uzbekistan actresses.

I developed a process of asking people to pick out groups they felt most closely related to and also groups that they didn't particularly feel comfortable with, and then asked participants to discuss their choices in small groups. As the picture postcards themselves are inherently interesting, people enjoy combing through the hundreds of cards and then the subsequent discussions, which are always informative and not combative. This approach works well in stimulating people to think about factors underlying their decisions about individuals who are different from them.

What do you do for fun?

Working with the postcards has been great fun. And I play squash twice a week, although my age is beginning to show. I have been fortunate to travel widely; I've worked in 25 different countries, and visited another 50. I currently have an opportunity to spend this Christmas in the Philippines with a son and Filipino daughter-in-law, so the addiction continues.