In a crisis leaders emerge. Whether a leader is the appointed leader or an emergent leader, true leaders, and by definition successful leaders, have some shared characteristics.
Given the cost of Leadership Development, it is important to know that as far as leaders are concerned a sheep dipping approach simply won’t work. A ‘peas in a process’ approach to Leadership Development delivers little in terms of developing world class leaders. Increased knowledge, models and theories are no substitute when isolated from practising the act of leading, and working on real time problems.
Like any development, leadership development is a journey. It is an organic process using the raw materials that exist at the point of intention. Much has been written in recent years about the importance of identifying and building on strengths in the harvesting of human potential, rather than working to shore up skill deficits. This approach is critical to sustainable leadership development. So where to begin?
A tailored approach to Leadership Development will begin with a period of taking stock of the individuals who are about to participate in the experience, and also clarifying the context within which they are expected to exhibit leadership and deliver results. This in depth gathering of information at an early stage, will ensure that any leadership development activities will be relevant to the person, and take account of the culture and environment within which they operate.
Once a clear baseline is formed, we can turn our attention to the activities and learning which will take the ‘leader’ to the next level. This will inform the “How?” of Leadership Development, which will often be a mix of individual and group activities. But what are appropriate leadership development goals?
Let me suggest 5 key goals for any Leadership Development project.
Self-awareness: A smart leader will invest in exploring his or her own personality traits, and will welcome feedback from others as a positive gift from which to modify, change and enhance behaviour. Executive Coaching is now recognised as an effective tool for raising self-awareness, and helping leaders to understand their impact with regard to others. Combined with psychometrics, this offers a confidential and safe space to explore in depth the raw material available to the leader in pursuing personal growth and leadership development.
Developing followers: The measure of a leader is the extent to which people are prepared to follow them in the face of challenge, obstacles or fear. Since leadership is about inspiration and setting direction, it is a fairly pointless exercise if there are no followers. Critical to success in this area will be the leader’s ability to understand and motivate others.
Motivating others requires careful attention to their ‘map of the world’ and adopting the skill of integrating their values and drivers with the leader’s vision and direction.
Thinking skills: The third goal of Leadership Development is supporting the development of critical thinking skills. Effective planning and organising comes into this area, as does the ability to make effective decisions under pressure. There are a number of useful development tools available to facilitate leaders to practise these skills in real time and working on real business problems, whilst supported through the process by an external facilitator.
Leading change: The Chinese have a foundational belief that Change is a constant, it is not an event. There has been unprecedented change in technological advances in recent years, and more and more there is a need for leaders to be able to provide stability in a complex changing environment. Recognising the transitional and recurring nature of change, understanding the different stages of change and how change impacts on others is pivotal to navigating through organisational life.
Cultural awareness: The fifth goal of Leadership Development is to equip leaders to understand the nature and power of culture, and the skills involved in either shifting culture or trying to embed a particular culture in a company. Like change, culture exists as a result of hundreds of actions in an organisation. Every action says something about the culture, and a strong Leader will know how to influence culture to alignment with strategic goals.
Leadership Development is not simple, but it is a simple truth that Sheep-Dipping won’t work and nothing but a tailored approach will do!
This article was originally written for the business section of the Summer 2013 edition of Aberdeen Airport’s upBEAT magazine.