Let’s talk about how you develop others!

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There was this person I met in a leadership development programme. A great thing about facilitating learning is that you can observe how participants think and behave in the environment you set up.

And here was this middle manager from one of the big banking institutions. During sessions and breaks other participants gravitated to that individual. If you have been to full-day trainings you know there are numerous reasons why people get attention.

Why him?

I learnt that he was a person who created developmental relationships with others in a very short time. Participants used him as a source for learning.

So we had long conversations how he operates as a manager. I asked what he considers as key ingredients of leading.

Guess what he answered?

One thing he surely did not say was ‘I create developmental relationship with my people.’ That is our abstract language.

He just shared what he was doing in his department: Asking questions, openly sharing his notion of leading, listing what people aspired for today and in the future, providing conditions to learn. What about the very good people in his department? Give them even more attention. He basically developed them out of his department.

Surprising?

Not to him. When asking why, he became a bit tense. Signalling to me that I am actually not getting it…

To him dealing with high performing people is vital. Employees and peers outside his department are carefully watching. ‘The way great people leave our department, the emotions they show at that point, and where they are going is why others want to join our department and fill the gaps. What they see is hopefully a process of learning and opportunities. I am never short of good candidates.’

To be honest

This happened ten years ago! But it vividly stayed with me. I do often revisit the situation in my mind.

Today responsibility is very much pushed as a facet of leadership. Mostly related to people outside the organisation, in society, with a rather soft voice towards people inside. What more responsibility can you feel than for the people that endorse you as a manager?

Try this.

Do you know why people join your team? How do you define your own developmental role? WELL. STOP READING, go to your people and ask them:

‘Can you develop, learn and build your leadership capability in the environment that we have created here?’ However, it is not a one-way street. So ask them what they add to their development to make it a success.

OK, YOU ARE BACK… Tell me how many people have said they can really develop in your environment….

Happy engaging – stay tuned.

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Freedom to speak up – managers’ challenge of listening?

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Remember what was important about leadership in mid-February? Sir Robert Francis published the ’Freedom to speak up’ report about the reporting culture at the National Health Service (NHS). This report has tragic roots in the NHS with harm for real patients and real employees.

The fascinating bit

You think, oh, UK and health care focus only! Actually not! This provides leadership lessons for every manager to improve quality, services, products – stretching managers’ thinking and practices.

The report recommends activities to make speaking up in the NHS less stressful, basically the norm. Two of many suggestions: Developing a ‘Culture of raising concerns’ where voicing issues becomes normality. Creating a ‘Culture of visible leadership’ where all managers welcome and encourage employees to raise issues. Both great recommendations. Want to read academic stuff? Look out for literature about ‘voice’.

Let’s look to the other side – managers’ challenge of listening

Managers are seen as a bottleneck. Sounds familiar? Same as in other corporate scandals. But how can managers engage in behaviours mentioned above? This is not an easy, just given task.

We are happy to claim leadership roles. We like it when people see us as leaders. Does raising issues then feel like someone challenges your authority? Employees know that and think: It is risky. That’s why raising concerns is difficult. Actual facts compete with the status we believe to have.

However, as a manager, listening and getting challenged may not weaken the relationships and influence we have. Quite the contrary. Relationships may be more durable when we can voice concerns – they show what really happens in our jobs.

People at the top – important

In the last post I mentioned that leadership is everyone’s job. Hold your horses if you thought senior managers are less important. They lead differently – not less. Role modelling and creating systems for receiving concerns becomes crucial – visible to the many. Years ago the Liechtenstein based company Hilti had a tiring but helpful motto and process – for all ranks: ‘Confront the brutal facts!’

Try this.

Think back to the last time a colleague has voiced a concern with you about the unit’s performance, processes, or services. Will the person come back to you with a similar issue? If yes, why? If not, why not? Why don’t you ask the person?

Happy engaging – stay tuned.

So what is it all about with leadership? … everyone’s job?

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Leadership is such a contested ground. Countless definitions fly around in academia, practice, media. Everyone seems to have an own idea what a good leader is. Like everybody in the UK knows better how to run the NHS or the English football team! You surely have similar examples in your countries.

Let me throw this at you.

Asking ‘what defines a great leader’ is not the most intriguing but very popular question! Often trumped by: “Bernd, tell me what the five things are I need to do to be a great leader.” Honestly, this request is a bit off track. Actually there might be a few crucial ingredients. I will revisit later. However, leadership and leading is not about one individual person!

I mentioned earlier that at Henley we look at leadership as a co-created, multi-facetted phenomenon! A relationship and a process amongst people evolving over time. Not just one great gesture. Directing, mobilising, developing people has a history, plays out in the present and into the future – involving many active people.

Leadership is everyone’s job.

We love our org charts, but leadership can happen independently from formal roles. Everyone who engages in the process of leadership co-creates leading. Commissioner Dame Marsh recently puts it as follows. “Great leaders are people who are able to lead those organisations where, actually, people at the very bottom of the organisation can be just as influential as the people at the top” (Report Management 2020).

A few months ago …

…in a Henley Partnership event one participant made my day when I asked: “Where does leadership happen?” A response from a manager of a maintenance services organisation: “In our business – everywhere. Managers make as much a difference as the people on the shop floor, in our case: street sweepers. How they go about doing their work and how they voice observations and ideas can change our business. This may look like small scale for us. It is big for them – and our customers.”

Try this.

Identify in your organisation people who inspire and motivate you? Who helps you to refocus on what is really important – and how? Don’t forget to tell them!

Happy engaging – stay tuned.

Welcome to the blog on multi-facetted energizing leadership

This blog is about sharing, debating, learning, and creating ideas, insights, and light bulb moments in leadership – the thinking, being and doing of leadership.

It discusses what is moving and shaking in the world of leadership. It addresses leadership challenges people and organisations face. Let’s look at leadership, followership, energising organisations or management teams and engaging leadership. And what else is going on in societal debates, for leaders in my own practice and at the Henley Business School and its Henley Centre for Engaging Leadership. Even more I look forward to topics that we are not aware of today!

You might ask, what is leadership then?

Leadership is a co-created, multi-facetted phenomenon and so this blog by default has a pluralistic view of leadership. Want to learn more? My next blog below is a must read for you.

And why is this blog out there?

Simple! Being a hub that generates conversations, provokes and expands leadership practice, thinking, and development – across boundaries of academia and practice. Don’t forget – it should be fun too.

Who wants read this?

All of you! From practitioners to researcher to those who are just interested. I love to learn your thoughts on leadership and what you like to debate.

Who will hold the conversations with you?

For more than 15 years I have been supporting organisations, teams and individuals – internationally, across industries – in their journey to develop their leadership potential. This is rooted in research and practice. One does not flourish without the other. I am faculty for leadership at the Henley Business School, involved with the Henley Centre for Engaging Leadership and do my own consultancy work. More appetite? See the About section.

What about you?

The blog is like leadership – a journey co-created by many. When leadership is about individual leaders only an organisation is in danger and vulnerable. Hence, the blog is a co-created venture! Feel free to engage, comment and share your experiences and practical challenges…!

‘Try this.’

Up for an activity? Why don’t you ask a few peers or buddies at work: ‘What has been their biggest learning in their life-long leadership journey?’ And see how they react when you ask them.

Happy engaging – stay tuned.