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When the subject of great leadership is raised in conversation, opinions range from misty-eyed memories of a great sports coach, to visions of Moses, leading his people into the Promised Land. Somewhere in the middle falls grateful acknowledgement of a manager who inspired and guided our progress in work or some other aspect of life.
If recent corporate history has taught us anything, it is that we are fallible beings, capable of rationalizing a definition if it suits our purposes. At its heart, leadership is amoral and no intelligent discussion of the subject can proceed outside the context of ethics, character and accountability. Leadership has the potential to marshal exceptional achievement and individual and group commitment, but it can also be manipulative and/or self-serving.
Recent research on leadership has identified “authenticity” as the single most important personality trait. Individuals and the public at large are increasingly able to discern real leadership that serves the common purpose, and “faux leadership” that focuses only on a cosmetic interpretation of important principles and truths. In fact, most respected leaders will admit that their own journey has been one of trial and error, and humbling self-awareness coupled with a total commitment to a vision, the people that make that vision a reality and, above all, the greater good.
For an organization planning to embark on a program of leadership and/or management development, it is wise to probe past jargon de jour, promises of miraculous change, and the one-size-fits-all method, and consider what the organization truly believes about leadership in the context of its history, culture, mission and values. Leadership and management development are about enabling the future governance and stewardship of the organization. Therefore organizations need to forge their own agenda, and dictate fitting values, structure, program content, measurements and processes.
Management or Leadership?
It has long been recognized that management is much more than administering and executing the operational tasks and processes of planning, controlling and implementing. Increasingly, in flatter organizations, or in project-based or matrix environments, managers need advanced leadership skills to motivate a wide range of individuals without the prop of hierarchy, position or title. The ability to influence and lead others in a fast-paced, competitive world is essential to success. The literal definitions of the terms, ‘manager’ and ‘leader’ may be different, but the debate is one of semantics.
Leadership is a fundamental part of management. Individuals are predisposed toward one or the other, but good leaders do not function well without management skill, and managers do not achieve results without leadership skills. The concepts, competencies and dynamics required of each are very different, but high-performing individuals and firms recognize their inter-dependence and fundamental compatibility.
Many have personal experience of tightly managed organizations that no longer exist because of a lack of leadership in adapting, changing or innovating in response to changing circumstances. Conversely, there are countless case studies of high-energy entrepreneurial firms that failed for lack of discipline in the fundamentals of management.
Formulating a Model
Leadership theories abound and range from the “Great Man” theory, to perspectives of contingency, situation, behaviour or transformation. All are attempts to define a valid dimension of an abstract and dynamic reality. Effective leadership in any situation or organization depends on the interplay of circumstances, purpose, resources, timing, opportunity or threat, and other variables.
Within this basic truth, each organization operates in a different environmental context of purpose, industry, culture and, indeed, appetite for achievement or change. Before embarking on leadership or management development, ensure your organization spends the time to develop a model that is right for you. Each organization may be at a different place in its life cycle with different strengths, weaknesses, priorities, competency gaps or challenges.
A modest investment in research and the clarification of focus are important before starting any development program. Most programs start with some core objectives, but an explicit and deliberate connection to organizational priorities or needs will leverage even better results.
7 Key Factors for a Successful Management and Leadership Development Program:
1. The Program design should start with the organizational or business needs translated into leadership outcomes. This will dictate the dimensions of a leadership model. A model or framework that is tailored to the needs of the organization is foundational, whether the needs require a focus on strategic thinking, operational excellence, business results, people leadership, personal effectiveness, change or any other area of considered competency development. Developing a business case for leadership development demands a rationale beyond vague developmental generalities.
2. Participants should know exactly what will happen and what is expected of them before they embark on a leadership or management development program. They need to understand the process of the “learning journey” and the activities, content, diagnostics and methodologies that will be used. Facilitators and participants should meet and develop an understanding of intent, confidentiality, relationship and roles before the program commences. There is no place for intrigue, manipulation or surprise along the way.
3. Too great a focus on skills and ‘training”, without a corresponding focus on behaviours and personal effectiveness development is limiting. The critical developmental challenge for many participants relates to an aspect of behaviour, attitude or personality that needs work. Skills development is a normal component in most programs; however, diagnostics, self-awareness, coaching, and evolving accountability and support within a group are critical ingredients.
Immense courage is required for an individual to make a serious commitment to managing or changing an aspect of personal behaviour. A meaningful program will create a challenging yet supportive environment, mature personal accountability, and confidentiality. It will foster a sense of safety where participants feel secure enough to confront their developmental issues and try some new possibilities.
4. Management assessment objectives must be addressed as a totally separate initiative. Assessment is assessment and development is development. If participants feel they are being assessed they will quickly move to defensive mode. Multi-source feedback and various diagnostics aimed at self-awareness are critical elements, but they need to be properly situated within the confidentiality of the program. If your organization already has a competence framework or multi-source feedback methodology and that methodology aligns with the content or objectives of the program, it makes sense to use the existing template.
5. Program design and process need to flexible enough to encourage dynamic engagement with each participant. Participants on any program of this type will have different needs, personalities, degrees of openness, learning styles and pre-conditioning. One of the weaknesses of many programs is that they are totally content driven without enough flexibility for individuals to access critical learning in a way that works for them.
6. Good leadership management programs should incorporate clear individual accountabilities for growth. Metric analysis done before, during and after the program can bring focus to this issue, and participants should be given to understand that there is an outcome expectation. Clearly, some elements will be “developmental” and will have longer-term implications but all participants should understand that individuals will be expected to act on personal learning. There needs to be enough edge to the program that participants cannot coast and simply “do the program.” Capable management of the delicate balance of challenge and support is paramount to successful learning outcomes.
7. Remember that leadership and management development is a strategic issue. In the knowledge economy, an organization cannot grow or prosper beyond the capability of its leadership and the commitment and skill of its workforce. Management effectiveness is directly related to organizational effectiveness, employee engagement and competitive advantage.
Retention, talent development, organizational performance and employee engagement are objectives that can be delivered only through the leadership and management role—the relationship that people experience each and every day.
The complexity, pace and challenges facing organizations today necessitate the development of a competent, skilled and engaged leadership and management cadre. This is important work. Invest the effort in developing a strategic model that is right for you. Embrace and design programs that go beyond a sequence of courses to those that create a robust and multi-dimensional curriculum that enables your organization to meet its business needs and priorities.
For more information or to book a group training workshop on this topic, please contact Sophie Gouédard at 613-234-2020, ext. 21 or by email at sgouedard at pmctraining.com.