Leadership Development after COVID-19 must be different…

Warning: This comprehensive article is only for leaders and organisations that are unequivocally committed to the need for leadership development to successfully change behavior. If that’s what you want or need for yourself or your organization then please read on… Also, read on if you are comfortable challenging the way we used to do leadership development before COVID-19.

Have you done this before? You visibly lose your patience with an employee or direct report for unacceptable behavior: not delivering on a deadline, perhaps not for the first time, interrupting you in a meeting for the umpteenth time, or for whatever reason. The same with your children, you lose patience with them for innumerable reasons. And perhaps these reactions happen because you’re having a bad day. On the same day however – an hour or minutes apart – your boss or a potential important current or future client does exactly the same to you – they fail to deliver on a commitment and not for the first time, or they rudely interrupt you. How do you behave towards them, for what is essentially the same unacceptable behavior, on the same rough day? The probability is extremely high that you reacted in a fully controlled, patient and highly mature, kind manner. So, has this sort of thing ever happened to you? Of course it has.

Why we behave differently?

Why is our reaction towards the latter person sometimes so different from the former? I guess if we were in a room, we could brainstorm some possibilities and conclude it’s a very “normal” human tendency. However, should it be viewed as normal? Allow me to abuse the everyday example as a more serious case study, just to illustrate an important point that must be understood in order for behavior change to take place.

Perhaps the main reason is that we believe either subconsciously or consciously that we are the more important person in the first relationship and less important in the second. Or, we believe consciously or subconsciously in the first instance we have some kind of power or hold over the person while in the second scenario the other person has some power or hold over us. And, this underlying belief or “rule of engagement” gives unwritten permission to lash out a little bit more than usual. Nothing sinister or dangerous, but real, nevertheless.

Is there logic or a basis for such behavior?

Am I the more important party in the parent-child relationship? Most of us would give our life for our child without blinking. So, who is the more important person in the relationship? Am I more important than my finance executive, the salesman on the floor or the junior miner 2000 meters underground? Most rational leaders would answer no – but remember the belief could be subconscious. However, If you agree that you are at least equally important, why do you think you have the right to treat your child, finance exec, salesman or miner in a condescending way, even on the odd occasion? I know this is sensitive and requires more thinking, also, that it’s not this simple. But please see where I am coming from. There is no logic or basis for you treating your child or direct report – anyone your so called junior – with more impatience and anger than a supposedly important – more senior – person out there. You do it because of your underlying belief that “allows” you to get away with it. I can of course use less conspicuous examples, like switching off and not listening to what is being said, which you might do easier with your child than with your boss.

Some may become defensive and blame other factors like familiarity, certain personal insecurities, or simply the bad day. When you choose that option, remember this: You were able to suspend or control those “factors” and your response – your emotions – for the boss or client, so why not able to do the same for your equally or more important employee or child? Perhaps we return to the underlying belief?

An Authentic Leader’s mindset

In essence this is my point. An authentic leader (human being) for me has somehow managed to get to that point where her underlying belief system is undeniably that all human beings are equal, and not just because its written in a constitution or course material. She truly does not believe her title or position makes her more important than anyone else. In fact, the title does exactly the opposite, it elevates the follower in her eyes and places her – the leader – in a more humble and sacred position of increased responsibility, service, upliftment and empowerment. And once a leader accesses this sacred territory not just theoretically but inherently, she unleashes that true “Us”, “We”, “Our” power, as opposed to the much diminished and divided “you and I”; “us and them” power. This authentically equal mindset creates a trusting environment that uplifts people, raises their view of themselves and takes them to where almost anything is possible. 

The gap between knowing and doing…becoming

How to reach this important state is a difficult one. Many in responsible positions believe they are there, or they actually believe in this theory but just can’t or won’t live it completely.

The gap between knowing something and then doing it naturally, can only be filled by a disciplined and conscious process of changing habit – several reminders daily, for at least 21 days the experts say. In short, it is hard work and the subconscious mind is inherently lazy – as my partner often reminds me the research tells us. So, you know that the above makes sense, you have known it for a long time, you are sort of trying to change, but you just aren’t, to be honest. Your conditioned response is habitual. Why haven’t you changed substantially? Maybe because it hasn’t been important enough to institute a formal habit changing process? Perhaps it is actually quite comfortable to be the most important party in the relationship, or to believe you are; it soothes the ego; there is some kind of absurd order to it – I can be important here while someone else can be important there. Or, the urgency hasn’t been pressing enough. If you knew that you would lose your child forever in 21 days if you didn’t change your behavior or you knew you would be fired from your job in 21 days if you didn’t start treating people with more patience and respect, the likelihood of change would increase exponentially. 

I think you may agree that one of the most difficult things to do in life is changing an important and not perceived as urgent behavior or habit. And even more difficult is changing a behavior you aren’t aware of. Also, change is even more unlikely when you are already perceived – whether by yourself and/or others – as successful; at the top; happy.

Ultimately you can’t escape these short and much simplified steps: 1) Raise the urgency for change; 2) Define who you want to be, what visible behaviors it entails; 3) Somehow set several reminders for at least 21 days to practice daily, until you become the defined person. Simple…yet difficult.   

The past role of leadership development

The world – let’s say pre-COVID-19 – spent billions on leadership training and development to change behavior, often at the top. Yet, by far the majority participants returned from the training and huge investments largely the same. One could argue they still inherently, subconsciously believed they were more important than their juniors, so they didn’t change. After all, they were the ones that the company spent exorbitant amounts of money on. So, for many this good intent by their organizations may have had an adverse effect – subliminally confirming or enhancing their conscious or subconscious belief of self-importance? And how could any program have changed leaders fast and effective enough when they attended sporadic two-day sessions – though it might have been of high quality – and perhaps monthly coaching engagements? It was always going to be near impossible in today’s VUCA world…on steroids. 

The proposed solution

I believe all of this may have come to a head. Our planet – especially the post-COVID-19 one – needs leaders to change for the better, faster. And of course, an individual can initiate personal change on his own. In fact, doing it on own accord is the best and most permanent way. But let’s be realistic, most leadership development – behavior change processes – take place in organisations where budgets are set aside to pay professionals. Hence it is absolutely important that every organization has its own, fairly independent, cost efficient and robust leadership development system that works; that actually changes thinking and behavior. We have to hasten the work of multiplying Authentic and Purposeful leaders. But something must be done differently? We can’t go back to how we used to do it. We can’t keep doing the same things over and over expecting different results.

So, I approach the proposed solution with this question: What has changed our society for good, especially since the arrival of COVID-19? The digital domain – social media and digital platforms. It rose to the occasion and made it possible to respond to the challenge, increase communication about it, collaborate and mobilize to fight the virus and keep relationships, businesses, extended families and friendships going?

I propose we take our cue from this trend. To leapfrog improvement in leadership development, leverage the digital domain by planting a powerful digital platform inside your organization, to augment, magnify and in some cases replace whatever you are or were doing. Sending leaders on leadership programs in isolation, for the sporadic face to face day session or coaching, just won’t cut it anymore. Perhaps it never did. You need a vibrant digital “Leadership Ecosystem” that aligns conversations, communication and collaboration on everything leadership, between leaders and experts worldwide, inside your organization and inside teams.

The Leadership Ecosystem I am proposing should allow for individual leaders to immerse themselves in all things leadership, to speed up and continually update their leadership thinking, understanding, development and growth. If you want to learn a new language by yourself or even in school or varsity it will take much longer than immersing yourself in an ecosystem or community where you hear it spoken every day, around you, to you, with you and by you. Same with leadership development.

The Ecosystem must connect with how we lead as a society and within that, how you lead as an organization, teams and individuals and it has to increase individual, team and organizational leadership fitness, action, accountability and improvement. It must help change habits.

ThinkLead in all of this

Forward steps ThinkLead, perfectly timed. It was created for all the above and many more reasons. It is a digital Leadership Ecosystem in which you immerse your leaders so that they learn to THINK and LEAD at an unprecedented level…faster; so that they can build authentic character by changing behavior faster, through their Personal Leadership Development Plan inside I-LEAD that sends regular reminders; so that they can act and align with their team, organization and environment within the WE-LEAD space; so that they can engage the ever growing, relevant and interactive resource library inside the I-LEARN space, in order to Re-Learn and THINK at an unprecedented level.

Just perhaps, if you aren’t at any given moment consciously working on creating some positive habit or behavior you may reasonably assume you aren’t preparing yourself adequately for the unprecedented future.

If you are an individual leader that wants to change and grow, let us know and we will welcome you into the ThinkLead Leadership Ecosystem.

If you represent an organization and the above makes sense, lets talk…on Zoom.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adriaan Groenewald

Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022
Email: info@leadershipplatform.com

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.

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