How To Change

Do current leadership development programs change people?

Some of the vexing questions in leadership development programs of today are: How can we ensure it is relevant in today’s world? Will the programme adequately equip our leaders to deal with the onslaught of challenges and unique issues of our business? How do we change behaviour of leaders that are set in their ways?

Financially, millions are invested in leadership development every year. It is a very expensive exercise, especially in a period of persistent economic pressures that include a recession, cost escalations, political interference and blunders. Organisations simply cannot afford to invest millions without clear and profitable return. Therefore, sending senior and middle management on programs through universities and other institutions that do not result in positive personal behavioural change, strengthening of a leadership culture or improved performance is and should no longer be tolerated.

How does a forty-year-old manager change beliefs that result in behaviours such as – being consistently impatient, autocratic, unreasonable; believing he/she is more important than his/her people and therefore they are there to serve him/her; poor listening skills; minimal compassion; incapable of inspiring others towards needed performance; struggling to connect; lack of visible passion; incapable of holding people accountable and much more? No structured program on this planet will do this for a manager that once was a performer, which is why he/she was promoted in the first place, right? Or, he/she once was a competent leader, able to inspire his/her people to perform, but something happened that resulted in a lull of performance and crises of confidence. How does he/she once again tap into that best part of him or herself?

The question is not only what leadership skills a manager or managers should develop, against the backdrop of a company leadership framework and culture, but more importantly, the question should take a step back and also include: What skills/attributes must the manager learn in order to effectively and independently develop – change, adopt, fine-tune, re-discover – Authentic Leadership behaviours and practices, in line with company culture and acceptable Authentic Leadership norms in 2017? Said another way, what personal attributes would assist the leader to successfully grow, change and develop, as well as succeed, while on the field every day, playing the real life ‘game’ of leadership.

Some examples:

  • Humility: If the manager’s general attitude is one of arrogance he/she will not change. He/she needs to somehow develop the attribute of humility, so that he/she wants to change; so that he/she is willing to listen to constructive feedback; so that – while developing towards becoming a well-rounded Authentic Leader – he or she is willing to apologise when over stepping the line and defaulting back to old ways.  How will a program help develop this? Such an attitude change invariably happens during or after deep personal crises – near death experience; hard, in your face feedback that threatens dreams or reputation, even ego; deep caring and extraordinary inspiration by another Authentic Leader. As human beings, we decide or choose to become humble or be humble. But do we, voluntarily? We usually need one or more of these three triggers to effect change. Becoming humble and taming our ego is one and the same thing.
  • Listening to my Authentic self: Am I able to objectively, courageously evaluate and assess my own daily behaviour, and how disciplined am I at listening to my own judge or conscience when it points out unacceptable behaviour? How good am I at listening to that ‘best voice’ inside me? Leadership programs often address listening skills, which is important. In fact, it is the most important skill out there because the need to be truly listened to is one of the greatest in our society. Nevertheless, personal change does not happen unless the leader learns the skill of listening to his/her own ‘best self/voice’. After all, this voice is always with him/her, when it matters most, in the middle of the action where he/she interacts with people and situations.You see, the challenge also comes when a leader finds him or herself at a senior level where power is synonymous with the position. Productive, constructive, bold and open feedback dries up at these levels. People tell the leader what they believe he/she wants to hear. If listening to that personal ‘best voice’ is not well developed and mature, then the leader ends up in a lonely world – the last one to know the truth; how his/her behaviour is accurately perceived and experienced. He or she becomes a “naked emperor”.We all have two internal competing voices – a negative one promoting selfish values and a positive one promoting authentic, unselfish values. The latter is our best voice, the one that sees things and people as they really are. And it should see us as we really are. If this latter voice is not developed the other one takes over by default.
  • Being present, aware and mindful: Am I present, aware, mindful enough during everyday interactions? Am I aware enough of what people need from me “in the moment”, or am I so fixated on performance and my – no doubt important – agenda, that I miss those cries for help and recognition? Do I notice someone’s physical or emotional need, because I have developed the art of showing up to the engagement with my full self? And then, do I listen to my voice when it tells me to do something simple about it – often different and out of the ordinary? Am I present in mind, heart and body?  In today’s fast-paced world this ability is a rare commodity. A structured programme will not develop this.
  • Composing myself: How skilled am I at recovering from negative moods and emotions, triggered by unacceptable behaviour of individuals around me?  Do I realise that prolonged negative emotions become negative moods, which are in turn followed by negative behaviour – our actions and behaviour stem from moods? And therefore, am I able to recover, re-compose, and control myself? Yes, this is part of EQ, but it’s more… It is all the points above rolled into one. I need to “centre” myself, be humble enough to listen to my best voice and set my ego aside to be my best self, especially in stressful situations where I am clearly the most powerful one in the room.
  • Connecting with extraordinary potential:  Have I uncovered my personal potential? Am I, on a regular basis, trying to discover, understand my own potential? Perhaps, even though I perform and work hard, I suffer from certain inferiority complexes because in my past other voices downgraded me and who I really am? And now I listen to my own inner worst voice that has come to believe those other voices telling me “I can’t” change and become that extraordinary individual? If I don’t change that voice, that narrative in my own head and heart I simply won’t change, no matter how many programmes I attend. If I am to start listening to myself (point 2), then that voice must believe in my extraordinary potential.This is exceptionally interesting. Dr Brenda Hattingh discovered that we possess not only physical DNA that determines to some degree our physical / biological potential; but also psychological – almost spiritual – DNA that determines our extraordinary emotional, spiritual potential. However, over centuries this DNA has been eroded and weakened. We have lost touch with those extraordinary psychological or spiritual genes. We don’t know who we are anymore.  Tapping into who we really are is a deep process of implementing the above principles in a very constructive, conscious manner. A recent conversation with her that touches on it briefly: Listen here…                                                                                                                                         Only when I am firmly on that path towards my own extraordinary potential will I be able to lead others on to their path. Can I learn this as a participant in a Leadership Development programme? Only if it includes the latest training approach that ‘changes’ or re-encodes that psychological DNA inside.
  • Inner peace: This builds on point 5. Am I comfortable with who I am? Am I comfortable with who I am becoming? Am I comfortable with the path I am on? Do I feel that I belong on this earth, at this time, in this place? Am I clear about my sense of purpose? This point provides healthy energy, drive and meaning. It also offers context in difficult times – it becomes your energy reserve that you tap into when times are tough. One module and a couple of exercises on some expensive programme will not give this to me.
  • Tapping into Context: Do I see the bigger picture and my / our impact on it? All the above helps with this. Ironically, the closer I get to the essence of who I am, what my potential is and by default what the potential of others is, the closer I get to the bigger picture.When I am truly present and aware, in the moment; when I am humble enough to involve and include, to learn; when I possess this inner peace mentioned above; I will be well on my way to tapping into the bigger context.In addition, to be able to contextualise takes immense maturity and credibility around the field and area of expertise in question. I will struggle to see the bigger picture in the Financial Services industry if I have no background in it. And the same goes for mining, retail, and so on.
  • Passion for movement: We all have a need for movement (progress, development, improvement, growth…). If we come to a standstill we “die”, even literally this is the case – when our hearts stop beating. Most of us don’t want to be in the same position five years from now. We want movement in our lives. So how do we turn that NEED into a PASSION for movement? Any so-called leadership development journey should do this. It should teach the art and essence of movement, so that the leader can go back and move his people and area of responsibility with confidence. Ultimately leaders are judged by the movement they create.  


Leadership development programmes come and go, at tremendous cost. But these invariably do not have a rapid enough positive impact on the leader’s authentic character, which in turn affects their ability to act like an Authentic Leader on the spot, on the field where the game of leadership is played, under extraordinary pressure, in the limelight every day – not once a week like top athletes or sporting heroes.

We must find ways to assist leaders with increased humility; listening to their authentic self; being present, becoming more aware and mindful; composing the self in times of stress; connecting with their and others’ extraordinary potential; inner peace; tapping into context; a passion for movement.

Adriaan Groenewald


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Do you recognise some areas in yourself as a leader or areas in your team that need improvement?

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Adriaan Groenewald is a leadership expert and commentatator

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