Friday, 14 May 2010

Groundhog Day Leadership

I was reading articles recently on how to become an effective leader and I came across tips on how to improve my leadership skills. I was particularly struck by the Google search on leadership which found me a 150 million ways to improve my knowledge/skills. If there is that much advice, how come we are not the masters of the art, and why is it that we get it wrong so many times? We have role models. We have authentic leaders, we have transformational leaders, we have charismatic leaders, we have transactional leaders and even in blackswan we have True Leader programmes. I ask myself regularly as someone who teaches the art of leadership, and practices the art in my own business, can leadership be truly taught, are there a set of skills/knowledge that once you grasp it means you can lead? My answer is that we are always looking for fast solutions that change little and cost a lot.

Ask yourself a question: in the history of your business how much has been spent on leadership training, and I will confidently predict that you are no better led today after this significant investment than you were prior to the training. Is this because leadership cannot be taught or leadership is being taught in the wrong way? Or is this because perhaps we are heaping skills and knowledge without the behaviour change onto people who are incapable of absorbing the information or deciphering the data or implementing any actions that have sustainability? I often use the example that leadership training is like putting people into a car with no steering wheel but a lot of power, and then asking them to go really, really fast.

There have been so many programmes on leadership and this is not just confined to the business world. Many of the programmes I see about leadership are largely a matter of technique or a set of skillsets that are being taught. My view is that alongside these programmes we need to embed a sense of urgency, a sense of toughness, a true set of values and beliefs together with the personal wisdom on how to apply them appropriately. These are tough times and we need leaders with passion, conviction, and a willingness to take charge and lead us to a better and more engaged place. I often use the example that leaders lead bullet-filled battle charges without looking back to see if the troops are following. My belief set tells me that if a leader has to confirm loyalty then they are already in trouble.

What we now need is a whole new way to help leaders meet the new business horizon head on, programmes that prepare the mental toughness to form the challenges and the vision and operating style that engages and motivates the organisation in a trusting and authentic way. We now need leaders who are driven to lead to step forward, to take control and to guide organisations through these unchartered and choppy waters. The challenge is that many of our models and most of our experiences are built upon traditional methodologies for a world that no longer exists, and so we drive forward using the rear view mirror to guide us. The ‘next practice’ leadership programmes need to deliver results that create a leadership ethos and capability that has toughness, entrepreneurship, chaos management, innovation and trust at its core.

Too often we love our programmes so much we do them again and again to the same people with slight variations. So we say that this manager has 15 years experience; no he doesn’t - he has one year’s experience 15 times over. And he will continue to have that same year’s experience over and over again - Groundhog Day Management. We can see the results. We witness the damage. Let’s make sure we learn the lessons.

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