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In many ways most leadership development is on the wrong track and based on wrong assumptions. It provides only marginal results. It's no wonder, in tough times, that development work is marginalised; as a senior manager I would abandon most of it too.
But don't assume all leadership development is ineffective. Done well it is the best investment any organisation can make. Most of us give only a tiny fraction of our potential. Inside each of us is a core of greatness that is largely hidden (I call it our 'Golden Buddha') as though it is covered by mud, flicked at us over the years by people we trust and even by ourselves.
Here's the opportunity: Imagine the return and the competitive edge available to an organisation that shows its leaders how to break off the mud and release the human energy available when people find their true-greatness (genius factor), their true-self, their true-path and their true-work. But it won't just happen unless they expect to find it and know where to look for it.
This is the true work of leadership development. It's the sort of leadership development that attracts more investment in tough times, not less. It is a no-brainer!
Most leadership development programs are based on 'best practice' and assume 'one-size-fits-all'. In other words participants are taught to do the things that made other people stronger; but often, when they try to do these things, they just look silly. What they need to do are the things that will make them be stronger.
Most leadership development programs assume you have to change people. I don't believe you can change people all that much. I don't see it as 'changing' you or 'fixing' you; it is more about reminding you of who you are, and drawing out the greatness that already exists inside. With the possible exception of a few 'trace-elements' I expect to find all the knowledge, skills and experience needed within. However, I believe that leaders, like most of us, contribute only a fraction of their potential at work. We all have a genius factor that we seldom understand or use. We're like the mud-covered golden Buddha. Over the years we have accepted bits of negativity (mud) that people we trusted (teachers, parents, managers) have flicked at us. Worse we have flicked mud at ourselves through our negative self-talk and personal doubts. Leadership development is an opportunity to crack open the mud and let the golden Buddha shine through more brightly. What is more important, when leaders 'crack open their mud' they find opportunities to help their people do the same; and 'liberating the human spirit at work' becomes a reality.
Many trainers see themselves as experts in leadership. I see myself as a student of leadership and encourage the leaders I work with to see leadership development as only one step in a lifelong journey towards mastery. I think leadership development is unnecessarily complicated and filled with jargon. At its heart it is about self-knowledge, understanding others and doing some simple things consistently well. We all have a bit of God in us and a bit of the Devil, they are fighting for supremacy and the winner will be the one we choose to feed. This includes the choices we make on a daily basis, such as, choosing to include rather than exclude, choosing to join rather than separate and choosing to find the good in people not the bad; and the thoughts we hold in our head. The trouble is, while this is easy to say it's difficult to do consistently well. As a result, my approach to leadership development has more to do with getting participants to reflect on the simple things they have actually done in times of great leadership accomplishment and what others have done who are their models of great leaders than it has to do with theories, business models or case studies.
Most leadership development is far too head based with emphasis on knowledge and information. This is important, but it's not the most important part. Programs need to include body, head, heart and soul. Strengthen the body and you help the leader become richer , healthier and more secure. Strengthen the head and you help the leader become wiser and more knowledgeable. Strengthen the heart and you help the leader's sense of belonging, connectedness, reputation, self worth and respect. Strengthen the soul and you help the leader leave a legacy and provide meaning to their life. The soul level is the most powerful. Soul is about spirit; doing something which is really worthwhile. It provides the spring in the foot and the gleam in the eye. It is the spark which when created turns ordinary into extraordinary.
Many leadership programs are one-offs and these nearly always disappoint. My approach to leadership development is to design in the 'fourth dimension' (time), time to change habits and time for deep reflection, self-understanding, practice and experimentation. Clients typically choose between 6 to 10 half-day modules that are scheduled once a fortnight. During the two weeks in between modules participants practice their learning in their own work environment and come back to report on results.
Most leadership development is based on an industrial model leading to control, limiting risks and standardisation. Mine is based on an organic model leading to liberating people, opening possibilities and individual genius. I think work should be based on love, truth and beauty. When I talk about 'love' I'm thinking about freedom instead of control; connectedness instead of isolation and trust instead of fear. When I talk about 'truth' I'm thinking about trying to lead in a way that is consistent with the way science tells us the world really is: organic instead of mechanic; abundance instead of scarcity; systems instead of entities. When I talk about 'beauty' I'm thinking of being of human scale, being life affirming, being in balance and harmony with nature, being elegant, simple and easy to understand.
Many leadership programs are run by trainers. I don't believe in training. I think you can train dogs but you can't train people. My background is in business and organisational development rather than training. I value this background because it allows me to talk the language of senior managers, understand them, how they think, what's important to them and the pressures they come under. I'm a facilitator not a trainer. I believe people learn best from peers who share the same daily experiences. I get learners to share their experiences and tell each other stories about what worked and what didn't work. I use questions more than answers. It is an approach built around the ideas of action learning that achieves deeper learning and strengthens the trust between the learners. I don't see myself as a motivator, I try to be almost the opposite. I have found a lower key more genuine approach brings out more potential in people. If I have all the ideas, others have less. I don't want people to be energised only when I'm present, I want them to be self-motivated when I'm absent.
Many leadership programs are boring. I have found that most people learn best when it is fun and active. I use colour, movement, music and art. I use positive psychology and strength-based processes. I believe the main task of leadership development is to make managers 'big' because big managers make others big too, whereas 'small' managers tend to exclude others or hold them back in case they become strong enough to challenge them. I try to get people to focus on their strengths, grow their strengths and build partnerships with others to cover their weaknesses.
The aim of most programs is to strengthen each individual. My background in organisational development means that my primary focus is on strengthening the organisation or group or team. I believe we are much more connected than most managers think. I believe my thoughts and expectations about the learners are vital to their success. Sometimes people want to warn me about a 'problem person' but I always resist, preferring to see everyone as a willing and positive learner. When I do, they nearly always are. I think the managers' role is to manage the space between people at least as much as to manage the individuals themselves. I think this connectedness means that the thoughts managers have matter, even if they remain unspoken, because at some deep level we pick up each others thoughts and intentions.
I am told that my program is different. I'm also told that it is special and changes lives. Don't believe me, see what others have said. Leadership development has never been more important or scarce, so make sure you do it well. It is a passion for me so I'd love to talk to you about it with no commitments on either side.
Virtual Group Business Consultants
free phone: 0800 4 virtual or +644 570 0727 or Skype Bruce.Holland
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Key words: Leadership, leadership development, leadership management, leadership training, leadership program, leadership skills