Challenged recently to ‘frame’ a leadership development process has led me to set out the following offering. Having had the opportunity to participate in several international leadership formation programmes I am, for the most part, left with a disquiet that is hard to articulate.
For one thing much of leadership formation is seen as a progamme rather than a process. Now, some might howl indignantly at this accusation and accuse me of splitting hairs or just playing with words. Perhaps they are right but let me give you an example of what I am getting at and you can make-up your own mind.
The ‘progamme mentality’ drives towards an end result. ‘Complete the programme and you have a leader’ is basically how it goes. Not too dissimilar I might add to a recipe which instructs the user to simply add some water, shake well and presto…you have the finished product. Most programmes end with some or other certificate just to prove the point. As a consequence of this programme-obsessive approach is a surplus of leadership formation programmes but a dearth of leaders equipped to lead in an unforgiving and bewilderingly complex world. One of the more tangible outcomes of this approach is leaders who understand leadership as a qualification and a position rather than a process and about character. It has tended to produced a generation of leaders who emerge from such programmes with only answers and tragically few questions; leaders who now ‘know how to lead’ rather than inquiring leaders who realize that they are only at the beginning of the process in what will be a life-long pursuit.
Perhaps I am being somewhat harsh and of course I am generalizing here but I do believe that anyone taking an honest look at the majority of leadership formation programmes and the curriculum served in such hot-houses, will arrive at similar conclusions. I know because, as I said, I get to participate in many of these programmes. One shinning exception is that of the Asia Pacific Leadership Program (APLP) based at the East West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii. But that is another story on its own.
I subscribe to the school of thought that suggests that for the most part leaders are made rather than born. (after all every leader is born!) I also believe that everyone is a leader. If the core of leadership has to do with influence, then the potential for all to be leaders is obvious. I also believe that ‘learning leadership’ is a life-long process, one which starts with self-awareness. But we will return to this point a little later.
Back to the challenge then of setting out a leadership formation framework. I believe that there are three essential areas which leaders need to explore in the process of developing their leadership capacity. Some of the things commonly taught within the respective leadership schools and programmes have a legitimate place in aspects of these three areas so please don’t hear me say that everything that is currently taught within leadership programmes is of no value! Exploring each of these three areas, asking questions as to how best to develop the desired attitudes and actions would be the work needed in adding substance to the framework
The first area is what leaders need to see.
Leaders need to work at an understanding of the big shifts that take place which impact on their context. It has become trite to talk about change and the need for leaders to adapt or die. We also know that change has changed and that shift happens. However leaders have the responsibility to find appropriate frameworks that enable them to make sense of the major shifts taking place, shifts that will invariably impact on both their context and how they lead. Although some of these might be industry specific these are not the only shifts that I am referring too. It is seemingly obvious that any leader would need to understand and pay close attention to shifts within their particular industry. Obvious perhaps, but amazingly we all know of instances where this wasn’t the case.
Ricardo Semler (in his book Maverick) writes about the need for every company to be paying somebody be ‘looking out the window’. It a point I have often mentioned in various articles on leadership. Smart leaders aren’t necessarily the ones to be looking out the window but they ensure someone is doing so and they then pay careful attention to what it is that the window-gazer has to report. Contextualizing that information, from the reliable source, becomes the work of the leader. Making sense of the big shifts, being ahead of the game, anticipating changes and how they impact on their context is work that no leader can afford to ignore. At a practical level this means that leader needs to extract him/herself from the ‘hands-on’ operational trap that seems to ensnare so many in leadership.
There would be many frameworks that leaders could use when it comes to determining what it is they need to see. For instance there is the transition from the information economy to that of the connection economy. This has been the subject of several past TomorrowToday.biz ezine articles and is perhaps one of the most important frameworks for leaders to understand. The significant thing about major transitions, and this one is no exception, is that the rules of the game change. Failure to comprehend the impact of the rules changing can result in a company, an industry and even a country becoming obsolete, irrelevant or cast in the role of playing ‘catch-up’. Other frameworks through which to survey the big picture in order to contextualize the impact would include that of technology and globalization. There are others that different academic disciplines offer but I think you get the picture. The question is, ‘what framework are you currently engaging in order to lead into the future?’
The second area is what leaders need to know.
Here I believe there are only two areas in which leaders need to find relevant frameworks and cultivate skills. “Only two – whew…that’s great!” I can hear you sigh.
But (there is always a ‘but’ isn’t there!), they are both big areas! In a nutshell the two ‘need to know’ areas for leaders everywhere are: leaders need to know themselves and they need to know others. There have been those for whom this link (that between self-awareness and leadership) has been familiar territory for centuries. In his book, Heroic Leadership Chris Lowney looks at the best practices from a 450 year-old company (The Jesuits) that he was a part of for many years prior to becoming an executive of J.P. Morgan. Lowery offers a refreshing take on leadership in what he describes as the ‘crowded field of leadership gurudom’ (p11) in which he emphasizes what the Jesuits have known all along – you cannot dislocate self-awareness from leadership. To do so is to create a façade that inevitably will be found out. Growth in self-awareness is an invitation to character development. Character development is an implicit part of authentic leadership.
Again there are several frameworks with which to explore self-awareness. My favorite is that of the ‘enneagram’ and perhaps it is no coincidence that the enneagram is embedded within the Jesuit tradition. The point is…what framework are you using?
The natural overflow of self-awareness is the curiosity that seeks a genuine understanding of others. A need to know what underpins the behaviour and attitudes of those with whom we share space. An inquiry that seeks to understand others in order to be understood, as Covey emphasizes as one of his seven habits (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)
Essentially that is all leaders really need to know. But, both invite lifelong pursuits and take no small amount of courage and persistence. And here there needs to be a ‘warning’: there are no short-cuts!
The final area is what it is leaders need to be.
Here there are several things that one could add. I have only populated this final area with one point but I am sure I will add more in time (however I will do so with caution to avoid a daunting list that others are left feeling there is nothing to contribute).
The one thing leaders need to be? They need to be Storytellers.
It will be the stories that will increasingly attract and hold people together. We live our stories and are defined by our stories. We frame our reality through our stories. Leaders will come to appreciate the importance of sharing their own stories and creating the space for others to d the same. In a Connection economy, it will be the stories and how they are both lived and told that will determine why people should buy your produce / service and why they should work for you. If you don’t believe me, when last did you have a discussion with any 20-30 year old about their take on life, work and what it is they look for?
As to the place and importance of stories, as the ‘Director of Storytelling’ for TomorrowToday.biz I can believe nothing else!