How Cognitive Bias gets in the way of your career aspirations

I’m speaking at a Women in Logistics event this week to launch a study which my company, The Forton Group, supports. The idea is to explore how we can help businesses make career transitions easier for women and minorities without having to be “Bolshie” in this traditionally male-dominated sector.

I love the word ‘Bolshie’. It’s got enough humour to neutralise that whole ‘bossy woman’ thing. Because that’s how people have responded in the past – particularly in male-dominated work environments – to intelligent and ambitious women and minorities.

I’ll be talking about subconscious bias – what this is – how we believe it gets in women’s way of stepping up. I’ll also be helping participants to identify signs of bias and what to do about it. I’m looking forward to hearing peoples’ stories and experiences; capturing ideas on what works and what gets in the way.

What’s the theory?

There are three ideas behind the study:

1.   It’s more important to have a behavioural or performance focus in the workplace and then weave in the diversity and inclusion agenda. This means recognising and valuing skills, contribution, outcomes an impacts, over and above our bias and judgements towards someone’s gender, race, religion or culture. The reason behind this is that, paradoxically, when we focus on peoples’ strengths and what they actually deliver, diversity and inclusion levels rise. When we focus on the D&I agenda it increases bias against those ideas.

2.   Bias is about ‘judgement and non-judgement’.  High performance should be about How people notice and judge people by their actions. Yet their personality or our perception of their attitude, beliefs or intentions get judged too. Being seen to be ‘Bolshie’ is simply someone’s judgement on another’s actions – the way they speak or their body language – not what they deliver.

3.   It’s vital to identify the signs of bias. Self-awareness is key; when we see how we are all impacted by conscious and unconscious bias and have tips and techniques for dealing with our biases, then things can change. Trying to change others is a fool’s errand. “Being the change” – as Gandhi said – is the first step.

So what is ‘bias’?

I’ve been reading articles about cognitive bias for years now. And following the Wikipedia article that tracked the increasing number of common biases. When it got to 72 types, I realised – as did many colleagues in the learning and development field – that a simpler approach to the topic was needed.

This is my definition:

“Bias is a quick response, mixed with judgement about a person. It’s caused by information overload and snap judgements. It is over-simplification, and making stuff up, about someone.”

It was great to find that others shared my desire for simplicity. I’m indebted to Buster Benson (https://medium.com/thinking-is-hard Twitter: @Buster) for sharing his ‘Cognitive Bias’ cheat sheet, which I’ve drawn on. Again, put simply, Buster puts cognitive bias into four quadrants which I summarise as:

  1. The desire to simplify
  2. The desire to make stuff up
  3. The desire to take snap judgements
  4. The feeling of information overload

We simplify because we’re in a hurry. We look for pattern matches. People who fit ‘our pattern’ are friends. Therefore anyone who doesn’t fit our pattern isn’t our friend. Therefore, they must be a threat.

Notice how the pattern match takes us almost instantly to snap judgements, and to making stuff up about someone. When we feel like our brains are in information overload, this is what happens

What works to neutralize bias?

Play a different inner game

Although I’m saying that, at work, we should be judged on our behaviours and performance – not our personality, gender, colour or culture – what needs to shift is on the inside. Fundamentally, we need to reduce brain overload. Seek clarity. Give ourselves enough time to make better decisions.

Here’s some tips – notice how –

  • You judge yourself or others
  • Self-judgement holds you back: fear of looking stupid, or standing out are common.
  • Self-judgement gets transferred to others. What you judge yourself for, you’ll judge others by.

One way to shift your thinking is to look for the positive behaviour. How can you support yourself? How can you support others?

Choose presence over absence. Fears, uncertainty, jealousy, anger are all absences that leave us feeling without control. They fill a dark vacuum where clarity and presence should be.

Three steps

Every-day feedback is invaluable. Not the end of the week. Or the six-monthly or annual appraisal. Every day you meet a colleague or member of the team; ask for, and offer, feedback. It won’t always be accepted, by the way…

At the Forton Group we teach a method of giving and receiving feedback in our classes that supports higher performance and delivery levels, and helps people feel supported; especially in those all-important appraisal conversations.

Other things we can do to support peoples’ self-esteem is to remind them (and ourselves) about their track record. Keep a note of your successes; sharpen up your CV to remind you of your achievements.

Coaching and mentoring are invaluable workplace tools for reducing bias and improving performance. They can be transformational in peoples’ lives too. I recently created the Coaching and the Leadership Routemap™, so that every organisation can benefit from a better coaching/mentoring programme. Find out more at www.thefortongroup.com

Next Steps

The ideas set out here are tentative theories. The findings from the Women in Logistics event will form part of our study – the next step of which is to undertake a wider online survey. Our purpose is to uncover ‘how to’ steps for others, and to make these easier for others to walk along. The bigger context is diversity and inclusion: gender issues specifically, yet we do expect to touch on issues like culture, race, sexuality and age too.

If you’re interested in taking part – contact me via LinkedIn or at helen.caton@thefortongroup.com

If everyone’s talented, what do you do?

 

I managed to catch an interesting programme on Radio 4 last week on the topic of ‘Talent’.  If you’re in the UK, you can catch it here.  It’s well worth 30 minutes of your time.

Like the presenter, I love the talent development projects we get involved in.  We get to work with a great mix of enthusiastic and committed people.  Highly intelligent.  Highly motivated.

And then they bump up against the filtering mechanisms and outright biases that get littered in their way, like tacks on the road to success.

Whether it’s a burst tyre, or simply a burst ego, their personal mindset can help them overcome most obstacles.

  • For some people these are the normal setbacks and challenges of life, where mistakes are genuinely seen as ways to learn and grow
  • It’s also becoming clearer that peoples’ inner values and emotional intelligence create tenacity, determination and resilience.
  • Then there’s the qualities that get the job done – the grit, hard work, sticking at it and building skill.

So great.  Mindset is important.

But how do you discern the best talent for the people, project or programme leadership roles?

The notion of ‘War for Talent’ results from a scarcity mindset, fuelled by people who profit from the churn in recruitment.  It over-values some people, and writes off others.  Both routes add to the expense of talent development

And there’s another hidden obstacle.  People of the generation that’s worked hard to pass exam hurdles all their lives, are more likely to be biased against the ‘lifelong learning’ mentality.

The good news is that intelligence is improving – as education becomes better and more widespread.

Educators know that people, young and old, in empowering environments, do better than those where no-one believes in them.

  • If we had a parent and a teacher who believed in us, we were doubly fortunate. Either one is better than none.
  • Today, our bosses and the workplace classroom tutors, facilitators and coaches are the teacher/parent substitutes.

The good news is that workplace learning challenges really add value – measurable in IQ and EQ – in our work lifetimes.

So what is the best way to develop talent?

I know that you have a development mindset.  Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.  But that development mentality needs to run through your organisation like a stick of rock.

So it’s not enough for the HR or L&D department to identify people with talent.  Their line managers need to believe in them too.

The solution is to develop everyone.  Give everyone challenging things to do and see whether – and how -they succeed.

Just, not only for leadership and management roles.

Everyone can have a Personal Development Plan, and every leader and manager can have the role of developing their people.

The secret is to identify what potential people have, rather than identifying solely for leadership potential.

Some of your people may have a preference for technical excellence alone.  In which case, don’t give them people or projects to organise or lead.

Others may have more general, project management potential.  Great.  Because getting the day to day done is vital.

And some people may just have those crucial leadership qualities that organisations need to succeed beyond the day to day.

Of course, it does require that your organisation stops demanding everyone has to reach the same elevated section of your behavioural or competency framework, and lets people follow the direction that their talent profile points them towards.

In this way you don’t waste the talented resources you do have – you utilise them to their optimum.  Because when you do that, chances are you’ll be tapping into their discretionary effort.  Because they’ll want to take on the challenges that best suit their talents.

And you’ll get better results.

If you want to nurture your team’s talent 2017, just get in touch.

 

Your guide to New Year’s Resolutions success!

Love them or loathe them – what you need to know about New Year Resolutions

It’s a great party ice-breaker – “What’s your New Year Resolution?” – but how many of your good intentions actually turn into reality?

We’re celebrating 15 years of leadership development and coaching at the Forton Group and this issue comes up every year, without fail.

Because people do want to succeed.  They do want to be happier, healthier, more fulfilled at work, and in relationships that work.

To turn that dream into reality – here’s what you need to know:

  1. Resolve is a finite resource, so tap into your values too.
    Keep your resolve for those make or break moments, like: “no thanks I won’t have another”, or “yes, I will get up now and go for a run”.
    Don’t expect your resolve to have any power at all when you are hungry, thirsty, tired or stressed.  In those moments, simply be kind to yourself.
    There’s something more powerful and enduring than resolve, and it’s your values.  Knowing what’s important about your resolution – why you are doing it – will stand you in good stead as you step towards your goals.
  2. Timing is everything.
    Find out what time of day you’re at your best, and do your highest-value work, or resolution-requiring effort, then.  Don’t go food shopping when you’re tired or hungry (notice the theme here?).
    Exercise at the time of day that gives you energy.  Meditate, pray or do yoga when you feel the most benefit.
  3. Making your life easier is not a crime.
    Where you can automate your life, or create systems that support your goals, do it.
    Whether that’s setting up an automatic transfer into your savings account for your holiday fund, or having a stock of cholesterol-lowering drinks in the fridge; or identifying the best cigarette substitute for your health.
    Invest your time in setting up these systems, so that you don’t have to think twice about taking the actions you need.  If it’s easy to do, you’ll be using less of your valuable resolve.
  4. It’s about what you don’t have around you, as much as what you do have.
    If there’s no chocolate in the house, you won’t eat it.  Which of course, does beg the question about what to do with those well-meaning gifts from friends and family.
    My personal plan is to gift these boxes to the local food bank.  Remove temptation and bring pleasure to others, at the same time.
  5. It’s about who you have around you.
    Many blogs on New Year Resolutions will tell you to socialise your goals.  Which is why we chat about them at parties, of course.
    My extra advice is ‘pick your buddies carefully’.  If you’re trying to go smoke-free, then your smoking or vaping friends aren’t necessarily your best supporters.
    Of course they want the best for you; yet you need to have the best people – for you – to give you the smoke-free support you need.
  6. It’s about breaking your goals down into easy steps.
    Unless you were given a magic wand for Christmas (and I’d check the small print in the guarantee if I were you), there’s no instant solutions.
    If your goals were that easy, you’d have achieved them long ago.
    Break each goal down into easy steps.  Use coloured pens, or sticky notes; anything to make this a fun activity.
  7. Write it down.
    Now you’ve had a think about your goals, write the steps down and answer these questions:

    1. What’s the first thing you need to do?
    2. What’s the easiest thing you do next?
    3. What’s the most challenging thing about your goal?

For this last point, spend time finding ways to overcome the challenges.

  1. Rewrite your goals as positives.
    Many people say “I’m not going to….(have another cigarette, eat that chocolate)”.
    Unfortunately, by repeating this you’re imprinting the idea even further into your mind.
    So state your goal as a positive: “I’m going smoke-free this week.”
  2. Know your triggers.
    So many of our clients are triggered by stressful situations to fall back on their undesirable behaviours.
    Whether it’s salty snacks with a drink before dinner; reaching for a cigarette after a stressful meeting; or falling onto the sofa after the children have gone to bed.
    Knowing what triggers you is an important step to cutting it out.
  3. Make it a habit.
    Going smoke free this week is an example of a great step, positively stated. And this week, and this week.
    Yes, there may be side-effects, which is why it’s important to know your triggers
    And yes, this is where your resolve is needed – or perhaps a lower-risk substitute to support you through your trigger points.

Do what it takes to support your new habit.

  1. Falling off the wagon.
    It happens to us all. I have met people with an iron will and determination to achieve their goals.  Yet most of us are all-too-human.
    A single step backwards isn’t failure; it’s just a slip.
    When we pick ourselves up, forgive ourselves and remind ourselves of what’s important about the goals, will help us to move forward in the direction we really want to go.
  2. This is about you.
    This is your life; each moment is precious and no one can live it for you.
    I know how trite this can sound, but when we combine ownership and control of our own choices, with the support and encouragement of those who care for us, wonderful things can happen.
    Those dreams can, and do, become a reality.

And if you need extra support in achieving your goals, a coach can really help make that extra difference.  Whether it’s a work ambition, or a personal goal, you can achieve your New Year Resolution.

Here at Forton we have coaches around the world, on tap in multiple languages to help you achieve your goals.

From all our colleagues, we wish you a happy holiday season and here’s to making 2017 your best year ever.

The Potential and Limitations of Leadership Development

It’s good to pause and reflect on the year’s achievements.  2016 has been dubbed the ‘post-truth’ era and this is one trend that we at the Forton Group feel completely out of step with.  Our focus this year has been on what’s been proven to work in the field of leadership development.

Evidence-based development has never been more vital.  Every hour we spend investing in people needs to be underpinned by a rationale.  Not just because of the time and money wasted; but because leaders and managers need to believe in the steps they are asked to take.

Here are our top-four evidence-based leadership development areas:

  1. The Schroder high-performance behaviours; 12 behaviours in four clusters or themes.  Do more of these and you’ll improve your results.
  2. The Goleman emotional intelligence model: practice these four steps and relationships will improve in all areas of your life.
  3. Coaching skills and coach-like leadership: four basic skills to improve individual and team performance; five effective steps, underpinned by leadership principles and an appreciation of the complexity of today’s work context. Coaching gets peoples’ buy-in; use it to improve engagement and make change happen more smoothly.
  4. Above all, support skills practice.  If your leadership development programme doesn’t have a coaching element, an action learning element and a strategic project element, then quite simply, you’re wasting time, money and effort.

Of course, leadership development methods do have their limitations.  They’re not a ‘one size fits all’ activity.

Yes, you can read about the theoretical framework behind each of the models above.  You can even register for our online learning and watch or listen to the material.  But to retain, and then to apply learning, we need an emotional connection to it.

This emotional connection comes through live interaction and learning.  Whether that’s live distance learning – by phone or internet – or in-person learning, doesn’t matter.  It’s the connection to the content that matters.

We can all read about building empathy and its importance, but it takes the experience of getting in touch with the feeling to make it real.  As one of our students once joked, “You’re making me feel empathy for this person!”

And even live-learning has its limitations.  Whatever the debate about retention of learning, nothing is truly retained until it has been practiced and turned into a habit.

One reason we practice ‘real play, not role play’ in our live learning is that we’ve heard too many students tell us that what they acted out in other training programmes was not what they’d practice in the real world.   We bring the real world into the classroom – and then continue that real world application support after the live-learning experience.

This turns theory into practice and practice into a habit of emotionally-intelligent, high performing leadership behaviour.

And why are the coaching skills so important?

Driving capacity for coaching into the organisation, rather than having it sit at the top layer like icing on a cake, means that everyone builds their internal capacity for excellence.

One-to-one coaching reaches a few people – typically high performance and senior people – and good work is achieved there.  Yet introducing coaching skills programmes into the belly of the organisation changes the whole culture – one conversation at a time.

In 2017 we celebrate our 15th year of leadership development, and look forward to working with clients including the UN and the NHS; we’ll be working with HR business partners, finance experts, engineers and technical leaders, as well as sales managers and their teams.

And, as we leave 2016 and it’s ‘post-truth’ world behind, we’re delighted to have received an award from CV Magazine for HR & Training.   I’ll skip the full acceptance speech and just say ‘thank you’ to our clients and partners for nominating us.  We appreciate it.

If you need to see tangible improvements in your leadership and culture in 2017, just get in touch.

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.

Leading highly technical teams

I’ll never forget the presentation delivered by the IT Developer who wanted to share every single piece of her brilliance with the rest of the room.  She lost me after 5 minutes – and I was her boss.  The rest of the room had long given up the will to live by the end of the 30 minute slot.

It’s a common challenge that IT project managers and their customers come to us with increasing regularity: how to lead and develop technical experts.

Leadership is an ever-changing landscape because every situation is different.  And so are human beings.  Yet we need to find ways to lead all kinds of people successfully.

There are common threads however.

  • The IT expert who wants to be acknowledged for their brilliance
  • Introverts who find it hard to pick up the phone
  • Details people who wonder why their five page email doesn’t get a reply

And then there’s the team dynamics.  Often teams are seen as fixed for the life of a project and this can damage the ability of the team to deliver.  The person you need the most to meet your programme deadlines might also be the most disruptive member of the team.

If someone with a highly theoretical mindset is expected to shift roles and be at the forefront of delivery, it can be a recipe for disaster.

And where does ‘leadership’ fit into all this?

Leaders need to have a practical understanding of the different leadership skills required of them.  They need emotionally-intelligent competences.  Not just so that they don’t get frustrated when the IT expert wants to show off their brilliance in the middle of a meeting – but so that they can support and develop that individual to use their skills well.

Leaders need to have a flexible mindset.  Confident in their judgement, so that, if team changes need to be made for the good of the project, the rationale is clearly conveyed.

The Forton Group was built to support people from technical backgrounds to be better leaders.  We’ve worked with scientists, IT and FinTech experts, engineers, medics and more.

What’s common to all these people is a consistent approach to leadership development that they can get their heads around – and apply in the workplace – today.

One that acknowledges their technical leadership and expertise, but helps them develop their relationship and people skills to best effect.

Once we understand, as leaders ourselves, that how we behave, how we model leadership and how we support others to develop – as successful members of the team – has a practical and immediate impact – change becomes much simpler.

Of course, some of them want more letters after their name –which is why we’ve developed a post-graduate level 7 programme in strategic leadership and management.  Others just want to understand the foundations and find ways to apply their leadership skills

So whether you need a taster, a 2 day-workshop or a year-long programme to develop your technical leaders, 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.

Leadership Development – more than a chess game

I’m not a great chess-player, yet I did enjoy reading about the world championships in New York recently, and of course it got me thinking about leadership development

A ‘game of chess’ is more than a game.   As well as the political intrigue, the public pronouncements on the fitness of the players – which sound like a more genteel version of a pre-fight boxing bout – there are the celebrities and the hangers-on; the rivalries and the red-carpet receptions.

The big difference between the games of today and the cold war matches is that fans can follow on their smartphones – if they don’t have the time or funds to watch the matches live.

And what’s this to do with leadership?

Players talk about their opponents ‘resilience’; their ‘adaptability’ or ‘flair for creativity’.  There’s more than one match at stake.  They represent the wit and intelligence of their countries.

Like the chess grandmasters, it’s vital that leaders know and understand each and every one of their people.  What they are capable of.  What their strengths are.

By the way, they don’t seem to have a term for female ‘grandmasters’ yet.  But there’s as many women in the world top ten as on Boards in the FTSE 350 (20%).

It can sound dispassionate to describe moving people around like on a chessboard – yet it is vital that everyone is in the best role for their skills and strengths – at just the right time.

In today’s uncertainty and pace of change, it makes a huge difference to know that you have the right people in the team, ready to flex and shift as situations demand.

Yet, too often, we’re still working in more rigid ways.

Someone gets a job title and that becomes a fixed part of their mindset.  They become less task-focused and more status-aware.  Something a team member was willing to contribute to, now becomes ‘beneath them’ – and I’m not talking about making the tea here.

It matters even more when rewards such as pay rises and promotions are less available.  Job title and relative position – “I am a Knight and you are a Pawn” take on heightened importance.  And it never pays to underestimate the pawns…

So helping people stay in a flexible mindset by developing their leadership skills and behaviours is a vital solution.

This isn’t about position.

Today’s leadership development is about evidenced-based competencies; consistent application, flexed to the situation leaders face in the moment.  It’s about stepping up and taking responsibility – wherever we are in the pecking order.

What’s so powerful about the new leadership development is that it’s emotionally-fulfilling too.  Leaders grow and develop their own skills and have the satisfaction of seeing their teams becoming more empowered and delivering better performance too.

So if your job is to improve the performance of your people and teams – whatever the challenge – start thinking like a grandmaster.

And if 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

The answer is leadership development – now what’s the question?

It’s often said that there’s no one way to deliver leadership development – and our clients are certainly prime examples of that diversity.

Leadership is the answer

  • We write ‘how-to’ guides for annual review and performance conversations – where clients want scripted solutions.
  • We teach flexible ‘manager as coach’ skills where situations are more fluid and less predictable.
  • We deliver ‘Level 7 PGCertificates in leadership’ where our clients want a mixture of skills and strategic thinking.

The one constant, however, is the need to equip leaders with the behaviours and skills to deal with what’s in front of them – today.

Without breaking the bank, losing half your staff to the latest management fad, or your top talent to competitors with deeper pockets.

The world is changing fast.  I refuse to use the ‘B’ word.  But I can guarantee it affects us all.

Better, more tangible leadership will steady the ship because it impacts on all aspects of your operations – individuals, teams, departments, the organisation as a whole – and its impact on the community and society around you.

And there’s a vital shift of attitudes that underpin successful leadership development programmes away from

  • Blaming others to personal responsibility
  • Waiting for someone else to rubber stamp solutions towards taking initiative
  • Latest fads to evidence-based leadership behaviours, consistently applied.

Recently from some very busy managers told me how committed they are to applying their skills.  Despite the challenges, everyone who reported applying the skills also reported benefits: ‘a really positive experience’; ‘it really motivated and inspired me’.

It’s great when managers feel that they have invested their time well.  Such that, even when they feel time pressures, they apply their learning.

What most struck me was how managers noticed that they can become enablers.  They simply support others to solve their own problems and feel better able to sort out their own issues themselves.

This sense of personal responsibility isn’t innate in everyone.  The good news is that, like every other leadership behaviour, it can be learned and applied.

Another client reported that, in every department where our programmes have been introduced, productivity has improved; employee engagement has risen and employee costs (sickness, absenteeism, legal) have fallen.

So if your job is to improve the performance of your people and teams – whatever the challenge – start with leadership.

And if 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.

Leadership Development: Shiny New Gadgets

I’m a big fan of gadgets.  Technology.  Software.  In fact anything that cuts down on life’s complexity and enables me to focus.  What I won’t do is throw out perfectly useful tools; or bet the house on an untested scheme.

In terms of the ‘influence curve’, which separates the innovators from the early adopters, I sway between these options.  And I’m definitely on the ‘safe’ side of the chasm when it comes to budgets, cashflow and P&L.

Which is why I look to the evidence.  To the tried and trusted.  Especially when it comes to leadership development.

Having experienced the wrong end of the personality profiling fads, I look for what works.  Not the latest shiny gadget.  So when clients ask for the latest thinking.  I point to Aristotle (died 322 BCE).

 “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”

This attitude is vital when we develop strategic leaders.  Which is why we apply a consistent high-performance behaviours (HPB) framework, that people can easily understand and apply.

Strategic leaders stand out by doing five things well – they –

  • Behave in leader-like ways consistently
  • Systematically apply what works
  • Are ready to be bold and root out what doesn’t work
  • Develop others

And, perhaps most importantly of all, they –

  • Understand the importance of being strategic

Yes we stretch and challenge leaders.  But we don’t offer shiny new ways to do that.  Their world is stretching and challenging enough.  It’s complex and uncertain.

We help leaders do more of what they’re good at – consistently and systematicallyDiscard out-of-date ways of working.  Be more flexible.  More agile.  More responsive.

Help them draw on the strengths of others around them.  Especially those energetic, better educated, full-of-creative-ideas people that lesser leaders would feel threatened by.

The good news is that, by developing strategic leaders in this way, two main benefits emerge:

  • They’re building bench strength and leadership capacity in the organisation
  • They’re making their own lives less stressful as a result

I interviewed a regional manager who spent 3 days every week travelling to see his direct reports, dotted around the south of England.  Much of this time was spent on the road.  Little was spent with his people.  And when he was there, he was distracted by other demands on his time.  The phone.  The emails.  The instant messaging.

Our programme helped him recognise the waste for what it was.  And he did four things as a result – he –

  • Cut down the number of trips he made
  • Made them shorter
  • Committed to really being with his direct reports when he was there in person with them. No emails.  No phone calls.  Just eyeball to eyeball.
  • Got proficient at that most hated of time and money-saving gadgets: the conference call.

He didn’t just decide to host these calls, he explored the best ways to be effective.  He encouraged everyone to contribute; to share insights; and to stay engaged while listening to others.

He told me how he benefited personally by being more office-centred, and how his home life improved too.  The team felt more engaged with him, and took a lot of the day-to-day challenges off his back.

He didn’t put a financial figure on it, but the organisational savings were clear to him.

The most effective leadership development enables people to be more effective as a result of their own insights.  Unpredictable?  Probably.  Effective? Definitely.  At Forton we deliver the practical support leaders and managers need to apply these skills, consistently.

In ways we can’t predict, you’ll benefit from 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.