The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, so the
Duke of Wellington is reported to have said on revisiting his old
school. A statement that reflected a belief, still held, that Eton
makes leaders of those born into the upper class. With my background
in senior management I share the belief that leadership skills can be
developed but I think all managers can and should acquire
leadership skills. It’s also the case that the type of leadership
appropriate for a post pandemic, modern organisation is very different
to the type Wellington had in mind.
Today leadership development is about enhancing a manager or
aspiring manager’s “emotional intelligence” that is increasing their
insight into how their behaviour effects those they manage. So for
instance does the way they run meetings open up debate or close it
down? Do direct reports feel able to express legitimate concerns about
proposed actions or do they feel any criticism is likely to be viewed
as personal disloyalty? Is the manager seen as supportive or
demanding? Is the manager clear in their expectations or are team
members confused by changing and conflicting priorities? The point
being how a manager sees themselves may not be how they are
experienced by those they manage. Improved insight means the manager,
with coaching, can adapt their behaviour to be more inline with what
they intended and thus more effective.
The simplest technique for developing this insight is 360 degree
feedback where a range of people who work with the manager complete a
questionnaire about their experience. This has its limitations but is
a starting point for a discussion about how the individuals behaviour
effects those they manage. It can result in some simple but useful
suggestions like, talk less and listen more. By far the most
effective technic is executive coaching where the manager is observed
in a number of leadership activities by the coach and then provided
with detailed feedback and suggestions for how they could do things
differently. This can then be built on by access to a mentor, a more
experienced and independent individual who can pass on their wisdom.
The most difficult parts of leadership are knowing how hard to
push individuals and ideas, knowing when to stick to the plan despite
its setbacks, when to recognise a u turn is the best course and how
to ensure you know about problems before they become major issues.
Increased insight in to how your behaviour effects others allows you
to change your behaviour such that you are less likely to be out of
touch, more likely to be given uncensored information, more likely to
get ideas and solutions from the wider group and so more likely to
make better decisions and get the best out of your team.
You will also gain a reputation as a leader who is receptive to
new ideas, able to deal with uncomfortable feedback, not afraid to
change your mind, some one who listens more than they talk. Maybe not
the Duke of Wellington’s idea of a good leader but some one a modern
organisation would view as a good person to work for and with.
Blair Mcpherson former Director, author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk