From years of Leadership Platform research and learning from top leaders and scholars of behavioural performance and leadership, it appears more and more that good leadership is a personal matter. Acquiring or abandoning good leadership attributes is a personal conversion or corrupting process.
Does that mean that all leadership development programs are of no worth? That is not what we mean. What it does mean is that if such development efforts do not penetrate to the heart and minds of the people concerned then very little behavioural change is likely to occur. There is general agreement on this principle amongst good leaders and experienced coaches and scholars of behavioural dynamics. .
The big question follows: What are the most effective ways to incur personal involvement and buy in? The following principles stand out:
a. Personal commitment to growth and skills. It is very difficult to help people grow and improve who are not passionate about personal growth and change for the better. In fact, we find this desire to learn all the time never leaves great leaders, no matter how old they may become. When we find that people who report to us have a serious lack of desire to grow, improve or even change behavioural mindsets, we may have to seriously consider whether such a person is qualified to do the job required.
To be teachable is a major if not THE major attribute needed in leadership development.
Be wary of know it all people.
b. The top of mind universal principle. As human beings we are geared to place more value on our top of mind behavioural models. It makes perfect sense that what we think and are concerned about at the moment tends to dominate our sense of value and performance. We see this phenomenon in the way that crowds may slip into emotional and destructive actions under the influence of one person. At that moment in time, the top of mind feelings may differ dramatically from those the individual crowd members had a few minutes before. Our work and relationship pressures may often trigger negative responses that may surprise us.
This implies an important principle governing effective learning;
‘The need for a committed daily habit of defaulting to stimuli and beliefs that keeps good behavioural principles top of mind in his or her life’
Many of us understand the need to master daily physical exercise in order to remain physically fit, but not so many realise that a daily and habitual mindset of spiritual and mental exercise is just as, if not more, important to our behavioural performance. Many of us manage somewhat to integrate the spiritual with the physical by pondering values and beliefs while exercising. However, this practice rarely manages to lift spiritual nourishment to the level of focus that is required in order to maintain a really top of mind position in our daily lives.
The tendency for people to default to negative and toxic behaviour under a pressure situation is the result of underestimating the top of mind principle. The story is told of a famous pianist who is reported to have said something to the effect: ‘If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the experts know it. If I don’t practice for three days, the world knows it.’
c. The integration of behavioural laws into conversations
The practice of book learning is as a rule not nearly as effective in behavioural change as is the interactive facilitated conversations around leadership and behavioural principles.
Leadership development is close in proportion to the practice of leadership conversations.
The learning process in fact becomes even more effective when all conversations in general revolve around behavioural and leadership principles, rather than on judgment of people. In other words, the skill to speak to principle as an auditing measurement of performance is much more effective than speaking to judging the person. Our society is seriously guilty of labelling people rather than actions. Every productive action is based on sound universal principle and law and should be celebrated as such. In the same way, every negative, toxic and unproductive action speaks to failure to observe good principles.
A good rule of leaders to follow is:
‘When I praise or appreciate a person’s action, I should emphasise the good principles that are being practiced. Focus on the good principle rather than on just the ego of the person.
When I need to rebuke or discipline, I need to focus on the lack of compliance to universal principle and the backing rule or regulation. Focus on the departure from good principle rather than on shooting down the person’
All good regulations should have a justified existence only if it supports a universally sound principle. In other words, I am rebuking you for not wearing your safety helmet because your safety is at stake. It is not really about the helmet, is it? It is not really about the regulation as such.
Parents may often make the mistake of superimposing obedience to rules rather than to principles. This practice is a major destroyer of innovation and creative thinking in the child. The same applies to leaders and managers in general.
d. Leadership development on site
A general rule governing effective leadership development is:
‘The closer we can integrate sound leadership principles into the actual working or functional environment, the more positive behavioural change will occur.’
This rule is one of the major reasons why personal example, especially under severe pressure, plays such a crucial role in influencing behaviour around us- both authentic as well as toxic behaviour. Leaders develop the best when their training is integrated into their actual working environment and amongst their principle stake holders. We are the values and principles that we live, not what we are taught and advocate away from the working environment.
e. The One on One rule
Ultimately we learn the best when we are taught one-on-one. This applies significantly to our personal spiritual lives as well as to our work environment. How this is applied in the busy schedules of leaders in not always easy to realise. On occasion leaders can find the motivation and time to have regular principle based leadership conversations with their reports. On other occasions this function can be delegated to qualified facilitators that have proven leadership experience themselves.
The above principles are valuable concepts to consider as organisations work out the most effective leadership development programs that are best suited for their organisations.
The days that effective leadership development is book or lecture bound is fast fading away.