No one would disagree with the principle that it is critical for leaders to have the right skills and competencies. But what an organisation really requires of its leaders right from Day One, is the ability to make sound judgments and decisions when the information in front of them is incomplete or conflicting – and that’s quite often!
If we accept that future leaders may ultimately be directors of organisations, then within the seven duties required of a director (irrespective of organisational size) is a clue to some of the skills and attributes of future leaders.
Specifically these are:
1. Promote the success of the company. That is always acting in good faith and promoting the success of the company for the benefit of its members as a whole.
2. Exercise independent judgment and make your own decisions.
3.Exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence.
Traditional leadership/executive training (particularly at board level) tends to focus on skills, corporate governance and competency development. This is a good thing, but while it satisfies items “I” and “3” (above) it fails to support point “2” around an individual’s ability to exercise independent judgement.
Why Mentoring and Coaching May Fail
We’re aware that a large number of companies believe “coaching and mentoring” is the most effective way to develop leaders.
While this is a reasonable starting position, it may not meet all business needs.
I’ve been training aspiring directors for many years, focusing on the director’s role in leading the organisation and board performance. I would go so far as to say that it would be a mistake to rely purely on mentoring and coaching to develop the next generation of leaders for any organisation.
If we consider how any of us typically apply sound judgement, it is essentially through a combination of training and competencies coupled with experience. Mentoring and coaching enables less experienced individuals to leverage the greater experience of established leaders. However this assumes that the current leadership is a good role model.
HR professionals have indicated to us that a lack of skill within their existing leadership teams is among their biggest challenges when it comes to creating leadership development strategies, therefore finding the right fit is important.
How do you Train Good Judgement?
In traditional leadership training, much is made of the value of analysing case studies and applying theoretical models to boardroom and business issues. They certainly have a place. But what happens when the models don’t work, information is patchy, and the case studies are irrelevant?
If we rely on simply helping leaders apply models, we run the risk of not preparing them to make judgements in real situations and typically under pressure, when time is of the essence. Decisions can be poorly thought through – or rely simply on the loudest voice to carry the day – which carries a very real risk of delivering a major blow to the business.
The Value of Experiential Learning
What is needed is a programme of development that prepares leaders to deal with precisely that moment, but which avoids any danger of collateral damage. In other words, a learning experience which allows the participants to feel what good judgment and bad judgement feels like within a safe environment rather than just experiencing it vicariously through case studies and models. For this reason, I would always advocate including opportunities within training in which those with high potential practice their leadership skills through the use of simulations of typical leadership, board and business scenarios.
The additional benefit of including this experiential approach is that the participants can explore different leadership styles; for example, when to be directive and when to collaborate. It also allows delegates to fully appreciate some of the key characteristics of leadership such as courage, communication, empathy, vision, integrity, respect and trust.
Three Core Elements to Leadership Development
The approach, therefore, that I would recommend would be training to develop skills and competencies, complemented by hands-on experience of managing scenarios.
Training, of course, can be delivered in an ever-increasing number of ways including face-to-face and bite-size training sessions as well as through online portals. Added to which would be the opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge in realistic environments where the consequences of the judgments made can be felt and analysed. Good quality coaching and mentoring programmes, provided by trusted individuals, can then provide supportive, on-going advice to directors in their new roles.