Get Back To The Basics Of Leadership Development

At The Monthly Senior Management Meeting in a random MNC.

Ops Director – “Oh, watch out for Mohamed when he gets back on Sunday.”

Ops manager – “Why?”

“He’s away on that “Super Outstanding Leadership Program” in Switzerland, his head will be full of nonsense when he gets back! Don’t commit to any of his new ideas, Give it a week or so until it wears off and he’ll get back to normal.”

“Why do we waste so much money on these trainings? I’m booked to go on the course above that in Q4,”

“The ‘Superstar Bosses of just regular Outstanding Leaders program’ in Hawaii?”

“Yes, that’s the one!”

“Oh, I did that last year! Brilliant 10 days!!”

“What did it cover?”

“Can’t remember really, but gosh, it was good! I almost wish we worked somewhere that we could use all that theory, but bless those consultants and trainers!! They don’t have the first clue what we deal with in the real world.”

“So why don’t we just use our internal training department?”

“Ha Ha!! Our trainers??? Ex-operations who’ve been on a PowerPoint course?’ What do they know about world class leadership! No, it needs to be external if we want the best leaders…”

“But? …Never mind!”

If you’ve been a development professional for any length of time, I guarantee you’ve heard a version of this conversation.

Our colleagues in internal training certainly have the advantage of knowing the organizational culture, but that “insider” position can put them at a disadvantage in the eyes of senior leaders at times of change. Justified or not, there may exist a view that internal training lacks the experience to raise a business culture to the “next level” that so many senior leaders appear to aspire to.

On the other hand, external leadership development retains a mysterious kudos, which some would argue is directly proportional to their prices! But perhaps also a perception that vendors and consultants have worked with a wide range of organizations, and may therefore possess the magic formulae which could not possibly exist within the clients organization.

They are however routinely accused of lacking the depth of understanding of cultural and practical challenges in a clients organization.

So what does a development professional do when called upon to devise a strategy or advise senior leaders? In my humble opinion, the answer is actually pretty straight forward.

Remove the mystery and get the basics right…

In every airport bookshop there are shelves of titles devoted to creating an industry around the dark and mysterious arts of leadership, when in fact, the key indicators of highly effective managers/leaders are well researched and documented.

Filter out the vague, fluffy and generic models and develop a crystal clear core leadership skill set for your organization, based on painful reality, with super clear behavioral indicators!

Think about the Leadership Development in a similar way to Technical Skills

Whist this may cause uproar in the ranks of those who have spent their career developing the mystique that surrounds the dark arts of “leadership and management development”, the truth is that every principle of (really good) technical development can be very effectively applied to improve leadership development.

• Super clear inputs and outputs – How to measure training effectiveness? Easy! Don’t bother; ROI of training is a defensive justification. You’ll spend more time trying to ring fence measurement than you do developing people. Form a deep partnership with the senior stakeholders and measure the objectives through the real world performance of their people, that is all they care about and so should you.

• Perfectly timed training – You wouldn’t train your operators on equipment they don’t use would you? So don’t develop skills your managers they don’t need yet. (Strategic business planning, P&L, CBA’s anyone?) The Middle East is renowned for giving senior job titles to junior responsibility managers. Develop what they actually need.

• Focused specific skills – Would you certify operators on 30 pieces of equipment in 5 days? I certainly hope not! So why do we have programs on the market from highly reputable vendors and management schools that routinely do this for our managers? (My personal record find was 104 management tools touched on in 4 x 2 day workshops!) Your technical training colleagues would focus on no more than 2 skills at a time until they were practiced and embedded. I strongly suggest we should too.

• 10%:20%:70%

Really effective technical development “trains” a specific skill for no more than 10% of the planned period. Then double the trainer time (20%) is planned to provide supervised, coached support in the real world. Do you really believe Leadership Development requires any less?

Supervised implementation is time consuming and less measurable than a delivered ‘course’, but absolutely essential for effective implementation. Observing team meetings, sitting in on appraisals, project reviews, planning sessions etc. all following immediately on from the “10% training” makes all the difference in embedding effective implementation (just ask your technical trainers).

• The Mastery cycle – Only in recent years has it become widely accepted that learning is actually an interactive behavioral and social process, rather than an individual one. Technical training has intuitively known this for centuries, placing competent young people alongside the Masters, for them to absorb the subtleties of their trade beyond the mere skill set.

Supervisors who then become managers accept a PM scorecard responsibility from day 1, to partner in capability development of the next generation of supervisors.

• Real world – reality check – A good technical training team is 100% aligned with the way the operation really works. Gone are the days in any leading commercial business, where a disconnected HR T&D trains an unworkable ideal theory, leaving operations to “wise up” a candidate on how it really works. Good leadership development is no different. A solid understanding of how it really works (the good, the bad and the ugly) behind closed doors and on the shop floor is a fundamental requirement to be effective in designing meaningful development of your future leaders.

So is Blue Collar development really the same as Management and Leadership? Well, perhaps there may be a few differences! But if you are investing a big spend on developing your leaders and are just not seeing the desired outcomes back in the workplace, maybe consider dropping into your local technical training department for a coffee and see how they get their outcomes!

Adrian Waite has been developing, coaching and “training” managers in multiple industries, in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for the past 20 years. He is the General Manager for Learning and Development with AMP Terminals for Africa and the Middle East, coaching senior leaders and developing the offerings and effectiveness of around 20 training managers and co-ordinators in diverse locations.