A feisty chef once wrote that just because you can put anything in an omlette, it doesn’t mean you should. “Please don’t let your omelette be a culinary bin bag”, she pleaded, fearing reckless readers would throw in lingering leftovers. Does this metaphor speak to you? Often I see leadership development programmes that had been added to over time and that have lost their integrity.
So if you are reviewing yours, what is the equivalent of butter, eggs, herbs and heat in your leadership development programme? My design of leadership development has long been underpinned by the research of Dr Mark Jenner who produced this excellent summary when we both worked as Associates for the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education:
I’ve been going through the process myself of really reflecting on what should be in a powerful leadership development programme for 2019. Here are my Big Four this year:
1. ‘Self-discovery’ in 2019 must include emotional agility
How are you approaching the development of leaders self-awareness? Those ‘ah-ha’ moments are often the most valuable outcomes for individuals and organisations. When we discover for ourselves how we think, work and are seen by others, we have ownership of that insight and can decide what to do with it. It’s what starts real behaviour change.
I’ve seen participants have breakthrough insights through one-to-one coaching, action-learning and exploration of Myers-Briggs typology and still include all these elements. However, my key ingredient for 2019 is emotional agility. I first trained in this approach to emotional intelligence in the United States in 2012 but I found UK cohorts unready to ‘go there’ at that time. Now times have changed and mental health and wellbeing are high on the agenda. I now find participants open and curious about ways of understanding and working with emotional responses. Emotional agility is particularly necessary in very logic-driven environments because it provides a way of including emotion in problem solving. Rather than either repressing or expressing emotion, we learn to treat emotions as valuable information.
2. ‘Purpose’ in 2019 must include intentionality
Getting in touch with ‘Why’ is core for any leadership programme. Why does what I’m leading matter? Why does it matter to me? Why does it matter to others? I often see a real sigh of relief as I invite people to re-connect with what is really important to them. It feels somehow like a great luxury and yet it should be integral to our work. As Peter Drucker said “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
However I have become increasingly interested in how leaders maintain their focus when the programme ends. I love facilitating the ah-ha moment, but what helps people implement their insight afterwards, when the busyness kicks back in again? I’ve read that we have over 500,000 thoughts a day. I have absolutely no idea how that is measured, but it sounds plausible. Add to that our ever-increasing flow of information and you have a recipe for mental overload and decision fatigue.
Leaders need a way to focus amidst all this. I love the concept of ‘intentionality’, which combines mindfulness with productivity. Core to 2019 programmes must be ways to support leaders to find a meaningful intentionality practice that works for them long term. Yes, certainly not everyone will meditate or bullet journal or start their day with yoga. But intentionality can include walking, sitting still and drinking tea slowly. Let’s support leaders to find what works to keep their focus.
3. ‘Relationship’ in 2019 must include understanding others’ needs
Many leaders I meet are very successful with some relationships and perpetually frustrated by others. Usually this situation rumbles on as ‘no-one is going to die’ if it doesn’t change. But what if they were? Then what we do differently? Looking for answers took me to the conflict resolution work of the Harvard Negotiation Project. I found that central to diplomatic negotiation is a deep understanding of the emotions that arise when negotiators’ needs go unmet. Inspired by this work I delved into the core needs of collaborators and identified five; Meaning, Expertise, Appreciation, Belonging and Agency. When these needs are met collaborations thrive, when they go unmet they struggle to survive. Leaders must understand their own and others’ needs for genuine collaborative relationships to bear fruit.
4. Action in 2019 must include Solution Focus
I’m a long-time skeptic of NLP so I understand the backlash against the ‘dream it and achieve it’ strand of positive psychology. It is important to acknowledge real systemic problems and not push responsibility for fixing them onto individuals. Having said that, I see a lot of people that are very stuck because they are raging against the machine. When anger, apathy or hopelessness arise from a sense of powerlessness it can hold back our creativity and innovation. In a world of ever-increasing complexity and volatility, a shift of attention onto what we dowant rather than want we don’t want increases our sense of agency and reduces stress. One-to-one coaching, group-coaching and self-coaching are all effective ways of facilitating solution focus.
More than the sum of these parts…
Powerful leadership development creates an alchemy that is more than its constituent parts. We create a learning experience full of connections that spark ah-ha moments and a mindset change that leads to doing things differently.