A quick rant about leadership development

9th January 2012

I am compelled to comment on an article I have just read, ‘What Makes a Good Leader’, available online at Director Magazine

I work with senior executives in large organisations and I can see that the old style command-and-control leadership no longer works. Leaders need to earn their leadership positions, engage their staff and win the discretionary effort that is needed for businesses to survive and thrive in a tough economic climate.

All the senior executives I work with are smart people, and they realise that they need to communicate effectively, inspire people, engage their staff, empower their managers. But these are all just management buzz words, what seems to remain a mystery for many leaders are the practical skills to lead in this way. The savvy execs realise that they are not going to be able to engage and inspire their staff just through their witty repartee, that they need to really connect with people. This is why they choose to work with a facilitator, who will work in partnership with them to align their leadership team, and engage their staff in meaningful conversations that lead to focused action. In this process the leader maintains their credibility through their content expertise, whilst the process of engagement and alignment is lead by the facilitator.

An interesting disconnect was highlighted for me when I was facilitating a meeting for one of the UK’s most prestigious business schools. The group in the meeting were 40 HR professionals from blue chip organisations, who hold responsibility for leadership development in their businesses. The conversation arose in the meeting, about the need for facilitation training for their senior execs. Nearly every person in the meeting agreed that this was a low level management skill and not needed for senior leaders.

My definition of facilitation is ‘the art of leading people towards agreed-on objectives, in a manner that encourages ownership, participation and creativity from all involved’. The skills we develop as facilitators are exactly the same skills that are needed by leaders to engage people, make them feel part of the story and empower aligned decision making.

Fifteen years ago, the soft skills training that most managers got was about presenting and influencing people. These skills were relevant to the old style of leadership. In the new age of engagement and empowerment, leaders should look at the facilitation skill set for effective leadership training.

Here endeth my rant!