Are you using a leadership mirror?

Courtesy  of Dreamwallsglass.com

Courtesy of Dreamwallsglass.com

I recently read a McKinsey Quarterly article on “Why leadership-development programs fail”. The article highlights several factors that, while appearing obvious on the surface, are often misunderstood: overlooking context, decoupling reflection from real work, underestimating mind-sets and failing to measure results.

Since I have personal experience of some of these pitfalls, I thought I could enhance the lessons from the McKinsey article by sharing some of my observations; thus, enabling you to make the right decisions when it comes to developing leaders within your own organisation.

Let’s start with the first pitfall: overlooking context. The article points out that a brilliant leader in one situation may not perform well in another. Although this is not unusual, it makes you wonder whether that person was a real leader to start with. Real leaders are able to anticipate and adapt to any situation because they carry more than one arrow in their quiver. Just because a formula worked in the past does not mean it will work forever. Different situations demand different approaches and tools. Versatility is an important trait of good leadership. People who stick to the tried and proven approach often do so because they are comfortable with it or, even worse, because they don’t know what else to do – not exactly a sign of strong leadership.

But I guess this also proves the point that a generic approach to leadership development – the one size fits all attitude – is not appropriate. Everyone is different; someone’s strength is someone else’s weakness. This almost guarantees that in a classroom setting someone will be bored. This may also help explain why the article points out that adults retain just ten per cent of what they learn in the classroom. Personally, instead of trying to fight against this phenomenon, I prefer to use it to our advantage by pairing up executives who display the opposite strengths and weaknesses. For example, someone with great personal skills could be matched with someone who has difficulties with people but who is brilliant at strategic thinking. This not only helps individuals, it strengthens the leadership team by reinforcing the bonds between senior leaders. This approach also helps bridge the second pitfall – decoupling reflection from real work – because it provides leaders with time to reflect and analyse their own performance in a non-threatening setting. It also encourages growth and development because it allows leaders to monitor their progress – thereby addressing the last pitfall of failing to measure results.

The remaining pitfall – underestimating mind-sets – is more difficult to deal with. In most organisations, there exists a huge gap between the top floor and the shop floor. Leaders are so far removed from the day-to-day activities of the organisation that they have often lost their sense of reality. This misunderstanding frequently leads to suboptimal policies and plays to internal politics and infighting. Without understanding the real organisational dynamic behind undesirable behaviours, it is unlikely that sustainable behavioural change can be achieved. As the article points out, people’s actions are often derived from entrenched beliefs, which regularly go unquestioned simply because they are so obvious. This is where consultants – who are not tainted by years of “business as usual” – can add considerable value. They can provide an unbiased view of reality and identify the drivers of undesirable behaviours. Consultants provide leaders with a unique opportunity to look at themselves in the mirror and map out the shortest way to get results.

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 20 January 2014

Are you avoiding the traps and pitfalls of life?

Thanks to:  Teaching Stuff | Gaijin Chameleon supershy.wordpress.com

Picture from:
Teaching Stuff | Gaijin Chameleon
supershy.wordpress.com

I remember playing snakes and ladders as a kid with my grandmother. For those of you who may not be familiar with the game, it’s a board game played with a die. The aim of the game is to get to the top of the board by following a road. Each roll of the die determines how many steps you make. Scattered along the road are snakes and ladders: ladders are short cuts that take you further up the board quicker and snakes make you slide back to a lower position. I would get really excited whenever I landed on a ladder and would delight in seeing my grandma slide backwards down a snake – especially since she played along and made funny faces whenever it happened.

Life is a lot like this game. We all follow a road that is strewn with setbacks and successes. Each day, we roll the die by the way in which we use our time. In life, unlike the game,  there are much fewer ladders and many more snakes, and, to make matters worst, they are all hidden. Our ability to read and understand them determines our fate and the fate of others.

As humans, we have evolved from prairie-roaming mammals to what we are today; we learned to walk on two legs in order to see danger approaching. Our success has been our ability to control the elements around us. First, we learned to make tools out of stone; then, we mastered fire, metal, electricity, etc. We have always lived in a society where humans have fought for and controlled each other: the elders, the church, the kings, the emperors, the dictators and the warlords. Today, the players are the CEOs and politicians, but it’s the same game; it’s all about control. The difference is that the game is now a lot more sophisticated and people are being taken advantage of.

Developing the skills and intuition to read the road in front of you is a lifelong process. However, I believe that by following five principles you can hedge your chances of success:

1) Do something you like doing. If you can’t get passionate about your work, you limit your chance of success. Try the motto: “If you can’t get into it then forget it”.

2) Stand up for what you believe in. It’s okay to change your mind along the way as you mature, but never sell out. Selling out might seem like an easy ticket but, ultimately, there is no satisfaction in it, only an empty life.

3) The future is so bright you have to wear shades. Every day, we are being bombarded with more and more information. Filtering this information properly is a daunting task. Not only is everyone seeking our attention, but also we are being brainwashed, programmed to think crap like “shopping saves you money”. (Ever noticed that often the “total spent” on your bill is hard to find as it’s in small print, whilst the “amount SAVED” is in large bold font?) There are dozens of other examples. The challenge is to build awareness so that you can see through the scams and bullshit – and avoid them.

4) Don’t live beyond your means; credit is bad. Only use credit in situations where you are certain about your return on investment. And only in rare circumstances is a car an investment. Cars depreciate; they cost money to operate and to maintain. Don’t buy a car on credit unless it’s a truly great 0% finance deal. You should aim to make your money work for you rather than you working for your money.

5) Things don’t make you happy; it’s what you do with them that counts. You might think it’s cool to own a Jimi Hendrix guitar, but if you can’t play it it’s useless. And even if you can play guitar, you will never get the same sound Jimi got out of it. That’s because a guitar is just an instrument that musicians use to express themselves; it’s the person that counts, not the guitar.

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 18 July 2013