04 Jan Leadership development is not about what people know or think
Leadership is a huge subject surrounded by numerous theories. A recent search on Amazon revealed 160,194 books that have been written about the subject. That’s a lot of books! And a very long leadership development programme if you were to try and include all that they contain. So how do you determine the focus and the content of your leadership development initiative?
Leadership is about what you do and say
The reality is that leadership development is not about what people know or think. It is about what leaders do and how what they do impacts on others. Above all else, effective leadership is about influencing the behaviour of others. Business results, business change and business success all stem from the behaviour of individuals.
Think about the leaders you admire. What is it that you admire about them? If you’re thinking about someone you’ve worked with, are you thinking about a conversation you had with them? Maybe you’re thinking about how they reacted to bad news or dealt with a crisis. Maybe you’re thinking about the vision they shared and how they wanted you to be part of it. Maybe you’re thinking about some advice or ideas they gave you.
If you’re thinking about someone famous, are you thinking about a speech you heard them make? Maybe you have a favourite quote of theirs, maybe a particular achievement that they were responsible for.
It doesn’t matter which leader you’re thinking of. What you admire about them is their behaviour, their actions. Nelson Mandela didn’t just think abolishing apartheid was important, he took the action necessary to make it happen. Elon Musk isn’t just knowledgeable about business and technology, he used that knowledge to co-found PayPal and put Tesla Motors on a world stage. Richard Branson has set up over 200 companies in more than thirty countries.
Underneath all this might be plenty of knowledge and critical thinking. But that alone isn’t leadership. Leadership is behaviour, action – what you do and say. Leadership is influence – how what you do and say inspires others to act. And leadership is impact – how the actions of those you influence make a difference.
Leadership is influence
The challenge for any leader is to influence the behaviour of those people who are key to delivering the business results. That might be the behaviour of the people who report directly. It might be the behaviour of the senior management who work alongside. It might be the behaviour of the board, the Chairman or other stakeholders. Or it might be the behaviour of clients, partners, suppliers or other third parties. The key challenges the leaders I work with have are:
Influencing the board/leadership team
Influencing the board/leadership team
Managing the performance of the managers who report to them
Working in partnership/collaboration with other parties
Resolving conflicts & difficulties between two or more employees in their team
Motivating and developing a team that has been through significant change and uncertainty.
Ultimately the only way a leader can influence others behaviours is through their own behaviour i.e. what they say and what they do. So, while there is a place for leadership theories and indeed the theories of influencing, performance management etc, a truly effective leadership development programme will help leaders develop the practical skills, tools and techniques to help them influence the behaviour of others in the way that is needed to deliver business results.
As a Finance Director said to me recently “My role is 20% Finance and 80% psychology. It’s all about relationships”. He went on to thank me for what he had learnt while on a leadership development programme I designed and delivered, specifically for the “Techniques that I can apply and use in my working environment. It’s given me the confidence to effect change. It’s also helped me to identify some key issues that are affecting the teams I lead and give me some practical tools and strategies to tackle them.”
So when thinking about your own leadership development initiative, don’t stop at knowledge and theories. Take it one step further and focus on developing the skills and behaviours that will allow participants to put leadership into action.
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