We’re off to see the Wizard

Leadership“A more collegial style of leadership is too often characterised as a weakness.”

 

 

This was a quote from Archie Brown, author of ‘The Myth of the Strong Leader’, reported in the Guardian newspaper last week, because it’s a book on Bill Gates’s reading list.

Bob Hughes and I interviewed the author a while back – you can listen to it here, and read the book review too.

What struck me at the time was how we get seduced by charismatic leaders.  The celebrities; the sportspeople; the men and women in positions of authority.

All of these people can be leaders; absolutely.  The potential is there.  But there’s a difference between falling for the charisma and really displaying leadership qualities and behaviours.

Over the years we’ve interviewed people who’ve climbed Everest, coached top sportspeople and sailed around the world.  The key difference we’ve noticed is between those who focus on their own achievements – great as they are – and the power of being one of the team.

Tracey Edwards MBE, for example, told us that her role of Captain in the Whitbread Round-the-world race in the first women-only crew – was ‘accidental’.  There were far more experienced people in the crew than her.  She is, of course, being modest.  Her engaging leadership style and the way she respects the technical abilities of her crew are second to none.

Tracey is a great motivational speaker too.  But that’s often the only thing some celebrities have going for them – the ability to look and sound good.

Today we live in the ‘plasticine’ era – we’ve all got feet of clay.  And the media are happy to expose our shortcomings.  Especially when we stand up for something, and raise our heads above the media parapet.

As leaders we can be flexible in our approaches, but our values and authenticity need to shine through.

But don’t mistake this collegiate approach with weak leadership.  Whether it’s a more collegial, a more coach-like, or more inclusive approach to leadership, engaging leadership draws on the power of the whole team – not one individual.

And it’s why a systematic approach to leadership development matters.  Building leadership on a foundation of consistently-observed behaviours that evoke high performance in the people around us is essential.

Leadership qualities build on our emotional intelligence too.  Which is why the Forton leadership programme combines emotionally-intelligent leadership styles and competencies, along with the high-performing behaviours.

So whether you need to develop your technical leaders to be more engaging, your sales-force to be more effective, or your managers to get their best out of your people –  and you want tangibly better leadership – get in touch. You’ll find us at +44 (0) 345 077 2980 option 1, or email info@thefortongroup.com.

Five steps to leading under pressure

One of the reasons I love talking with younger people about leadership is that they’re very transparent about their expectations.  While we’re busy devising development programmes, setting learning goals and more, they’re focused on the nitty gritty of job titles, office size and company car potential.

I love that pragmatic nature, and I’m always amused by how we expect our careers to flow smoothly in an ever-upward direction, when reality shows that our lives stutter from one missed opportunity to the totally-unexpected open doors.

Designing programmes is all about that flow of the development journey, and yet a recent conversation had me thinking about all the steps that can be missed because they don’t ‘count’ in typical leadership programme design.

Step 1: Talking about leadership

The way people – young and old – talk about leadership is a clear indicator of the gaps between expectation and reality.  If our potential leaders are stuck in the ‘leader as hero’ paradigm; or have outdated assumptions about gender, age or cultural diversity, we need to shift the conversation.

Listening is vital, so that the shifts needed are clear, and can be woven into programme design.

Step 2: Seeing past symbolic leadership

It’s not just expectations about having your name on the door; a better cubicle in the office, or a fancy title.  These ambitions are natural side-effects to having career goals.  The key here is to ensure that people coming to your leadership development programmes can recognise them for what they are: symbolic gestures to indicate a level of accountability and responsibility.  A reward for the challenges they will face.

Expecting to give someone a new job title; a different position on the organisation chart and a rise is not enough, on its own.

However, working more closely with your compensations and benefits team as part of the leadership development programme helps put these elements in a leadership context, rather than making them the focus.

Step Three: Knowing what ‘leadership skills’ are

Programme participants need to know and understand the behavioural expectations you have of them as leaders.

To appreciate ‘self-leadership’ as a precursor to leading others.  How some behaviour levels can derail success, and some have transformational impacts.

And how ‘leadership’ isn’t just about performance, but about evoking inspiration, motivation, and being a role model for others.

  • About giving and receiving feedback for continuous improvement.
  • About attitudes towards accountability and responsibility, and using that intrinsic motivation to drive our behaviours.
  • About emotional intelligence and its role in evoking empathy, maintaining good humour and being resilient in the face of challenge.

Oh, and talking about failure.  And avoiding perfectionism.  How we don’t need every single competence at the highest level; just good enough for the job we’re in right now.  And having a ‘development mindset’.

Step Four: Practicing leadership behaviours

All the theory; all the models; all the ideas in the world aren’t going to make better leaders.  It’s one thing to have understanding of a subject, it’s quite another to see when, where, and how to put leadership skills into practice.

Our leadership development programmes are as much a place to practice those skills, based on the real issues that our participants bring, as they are to explore, discuss and debrief on the theory.

High on interaction, every activity is designed to have an immediate, tangible benefit.  An opportunity to give and receive feedback, and a chance to debrief on how it can be applied back in the participants’ real world.

Step Five: Delivering leadership under pressure

So few of the situations leaders find themselves in these days are predictable.  It’s become the new definition of leadership.  The predictable has been automated; or can be delegated to, and managed by, the team.

And unpredictability brings pressure.  Raised voices; uncertainty; fear.  And this is why the best leadership development programmes extend into delivery support.  Because whatever gets rehearsed in the classroom, you can bet that it’ll be different on the front line.

We provide group action learning for participants, so that they can debrief and learn from each other’s real world issues.  What works; what doesn’t work.  Tips and tricks for success.

Long gone are the days when learning was about memorising facts and regurgitating them on paper.  No ‘looking over someone’s shoulder’.  Keeping your ideas to yourself in case someone ‘stole’ them and took the credit.

Today’s leadership development is all about collaboration; ideas sharing and celebrating success.  But every step has to be in place for better leadership to be a reality.

And, while people ask us to tailor our programmes to their organisation – which we’re very happy to do – we also remind them that their biggest resource is their people, who will automatically tailor the content to get the most out of their development.

You’ll benefit from better leadership, more effective and productive teams, and higher employee engagement scores too.

At Forton we change cultures and support leadership development from bite-sized to week-long events.  And we can show you how to demonstrate return on your investment (ROI).

To experience this for yourself pick up the phone.  You’ll find us at +44 (0) 845 077 2980 option 1, or email info@thefortongroup.com.

Transformational Leadership: what do tea, cakes and computers have in common?

Driving back from a client this week, listening to the radio, I heard an article about a company called Leo Computers Ltd, set up 60 years ago by J Lyons and Co.

Lyons were famous for their teashops known as Corner Houses.  In beautiful art deco style, which were so popular that, at their height, they employed 400 staff in each store and stayed open 24 hours a day. Continue reading

What can leaders learn from dogs barking at a postal carrier?

I had the great pleasure of running one of our Leadership Coaching Programs in Toronto last month.  Sunshine; great location; good company – what more could I want?

I was staying with our friends and colleagues, Cyndi and Ross, who have two delightful Golden Labradors. This has to be one of the friendliest breeds of dog. They love being around people, and are very enthusiastic and expressive. Continue reading

Our Man in Panama

I’ve just finished a week of working in Panama.  We’ve been running career development workshops for an international charity. It’s a fascinating country, whose recent history is dominated by the canal.  It’s a visionary project, still a vital lifeline for trade, operating 24 hours a day. The city is the headquarters for many charities.

I’d set off with a few pre-conceptions about what the people would be like.  They came from across South America, a continent I’ve never visited. I suspect that subconsciously, I was looking for proof to reinforce my stereotypes. I began to think about how often we do this, at many times in our life. Continue reading

What do HR Directors really look for in professional leadership development services?

There’s a lot of debate around what HR professionals are looking for from suppliers of leadership development services.  I was reminded of this when I came across some copies a PWC study* for the ICF (International Coach Federation) looking at purchasing decisions from a client perspective

Some people get technical – looking at profiling tools and tests such as MBTI, Firo-B (relationship behaviours) or DISC (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance)

Others want to tailor products and services to their company.  Many invest in defining leadership competences or behaviours.

All of which is fine.  These approaches provide benchmark against which people can develop themselves and others in their team.

What PWC did is look at important attributes in the selection process and identify the most important aspects, under

  • Personal Attributes
  • Background
  • Experience
  • Reputation
  • Methodology

Under the topic of Personal Attributes, confidence, rapport and personal compatibility were deemed as most important by far of all the attributes.  And no surprise that effectiveness was the most important attribute under methodology. These four attributes were the most important to PWC’s respondents – by far.

The finding that ‘Personal referrals’ were more important than client references under Reputation was intriguing.  And it is revealing was that relevant professional experience was perceived as more important that ‘years as a coach’ under Experience.  I was also pleased to see that the level of ‘coach-specific training’ was most important in Background.

(source: *ICF Global Coaching Client Study, Association Resource Centre and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 2009)

Our evaluation of professional Associates (Consultants, Coaches and Trainers) is that its’ this combination that matters and these are the questions we ask:

  • What leadership experience do you have?
  • What technical and skill areas do you have (outside of leadership development)?
  • What coach-specific training and qualifications do you have?
  • What learning do you have around the topic of developing leaders?

Rapport and personality come through when we meet with them – it’s key for their relationship with clients and we much prefer to do business with likeable people.  We also make sure that we personally hear each of them coach – so that we can really stand behind the quality of the professionals we work with.

So why does this matter?

I’m intrigued by organisations buying leadership coaching services and coaching skills training, without really thinking through what they need.  For example, one company were seeking recently seeking training with two accreditation options in mind – one at a low skills level and the other for an academic qualification.

My personal view is that the academic qualifications in coaching are for professionals with existing coach-specific training to explore the academic side of the profession – not for leaders and managers in the workplace who will only have time to dip into the theory.  At the other end of the scale, if an organisation wants to build an in-house coaching competency, then the training should be at a suitable level – with the option of a meaningful qualification.

One of the reasons we support the global standards of the ICF is that they transcend culture and diversity – whilst acknowledging local and regional difference.  Their accreditation process isn’t a walk-over either – as I’m experiencing first hand at the moment.

The ICF also recognise successful coaching programmes through their ‘PRISM’ award.  I was involved in the recent ICF Global Conference in London and was very impressed by the quality of the winners – especially by the evidence they put forward that showed the difference coaching was making in their organisations.

Recent PRISM award winners include

  • Genentech: considered the founder of the biotechnology industry, using human genetic information to discover, develop, manufacture and commercialise medicines to treat patients with serious or life-threatening medical conditions.  The company sees coaching as increasing their capacity for change.
  • TINE Group: NOrways most important contributor to value creation and the country’s leading supplier of food products – TINE provides a health and positive food experience.  The company sees coaching as a leadership skill.

Some resources for you

We’ve got spare copies of the Case Studies and the PWC report (only 12 copies – so first come, first served) here in the office.

If you’d like to receive a copy of either the report or the case studies, simply drop us an email at info@thefortongroup.com and we’ll do the rest.

Leadership and listening beyond the words

Last week, we launched our flagship leadership coach training product, Ignite, in Italy. I had the great pleasure of spending time with our partners in Rome.  They ran the course for a dozen leaders and coaches keen to learn our model.  My job was to listen, observe and support – and my biggest challenge was the listening.

I think it would be fair to say that learning new languages has never been one of my strengths – although I’m happy to be convinced this is merely a belief, and look forward to some offers of great coaching on this topic! Over the years, about the furthest I have got is to learn how to order a beer and ask for the bill. I’m proud to say I can now do this in eight different languages.

However, this limited vocabulary was going to be of little use to me as I observed my colleagues run the program. I had also promised to say a few words to kick the thing off, and thought it might be a bit early in the day for a beer, so I added another phrase to my vocabulary – “Mi dispiace, non parlo italiano” which ( I hope) means “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian”.

They were very tolerant of me and, after I’d finished, I sat quietly at the back of the room and watched the experts get on with running the course. As I was listening, I saw what a great practical example this was of what we always knew about learning – that it is about more than just the words.

It is often said that only 7% of the success of our communications is down to the words we use. Albert Mehrabian published research in 1981 where the 7-38-55 rule first appeared – 7% of the message is conveyed by words, 38% by tone of voice, and 55% by body language. In fact, his research was much narrower, about how we convey and interpret feelings – the rule determines how much we like someone when they’re talking about their feelings. It’s been incorrectly applied more widely over the years.

However, other studies have come up with a range of different ratios showing the importance of words versus the non-verbal elements and there clearly is a contribution to the success of our communication from both. When we deliver our leadership coach training programme, we are always flexing our style between trainer, facilitator and coach. My inability to understand Italian became less important as I could clearly see my colleagues using these different styles.

It was a great reminder about some core lessons about listening. It’s a vital skill for coaches to have and, of course, for leaders too. There are many reasons why this is so. For example, how often do we hear about major disasters that have ruined the reputation of companies where somebody in the organisation could see it was going to happen but nobody listened to them.

Also, when you think back to the great bosses, that you have had, my guess is that one quality they all share was that you felt listened to, and that builds loyalty and engagement.

The good news is that it’s possible to build this muscle – and the bad news is it needs constant practice. If you’d like to look at slightly different approach to improving your listening, then I’d recommend  “The Listening Book” by W.A. Mathieu.

I’d be really interested to hear your tips on building the skill of listening; how it impacts on your leadership, and any books you’d recommend. Buon ascolto!”

Employee engagement – the key to organisational success

One of my coaching clients works for possibly one of the worst bosses in the world.  Their colleagues spend all day playing computer games.   The physical environment of the office isn’t great.  Yet despite all that, this client loves their work; they keep putting the hours in, they keep churning work out, they remain sanguine about the surroundings and just exude positivity.   They are a real pleasure to be with.    Whatever they have, I wish I could bottle it; because their behaviour under those circumstances is rare. Continue reading