Archive for the ‘professional development’ Category

Leadership is a diverse topic, and there is an enormous literature that surrounds it.  Social media abounds with “insights”, to the extent that I have recently begun reflecting on what I have learnt about leading over the last 30 years in the work force. Not much seems to be new!!

 One dominant theme in the social media is an attempt to describe good leadership.  This is an older contribution from Schmertz and Novak on the topic that seems to cover much of what is advocated in more contemporary contributions.
A good leader
  • is always willing to do the dirty work.  He’ll sweep out the store if that’s what’s required to make a project succeed.  If everyone on the team has to make a sacrifice, he’ll set an example for others to follow.
  • isn’t afraid to hire people who are smarter or more creative than himself.  He knows that if he goes to the usual mediocre sources, he’s going to end up with the usual mediocre results.  A real leader can harness the energy of creative people in a way that will enhance the entire enterprise.  Since most people “per se” are mediocre, the true leader can be recognised because, somehow or other, his people consistently turn in superior performances.
  • is enthusiastic during tough times.  Leaders who constantly complain about a bad situation can rarely motivate the troops and help them to overcome adversity.  In a crisis, optimism and confidence are even more important than experience and intelligence.
  • has vision.  In our experience there are two kinds of leader – the “lets-not” and the “why-not”.  When times are tough, the lets-not prefer to retreat, to stay with the familiar, to avoid taking risks.  The why-nots, on the other hand, are open to fresh ideas and bold possibilities.  If the old answers don’t work, they’re willing to experiment with new and unconventional solutions.
  • is tough – a quality that has less to do with personality than with character.  It’s not that the tough leader is abrasive, or uncaring, or insensitive.  It’s simply that he’s willing and able to make the difficult and unpopular decisions – and live with their consequences.
  • holds a set of philosophical principles that guide him when it comes to specific issues.  Rather than making decisions on an ad hoc basis, he has formed some conclusions about the basic objectives of the organisation and about how those objectives should be reached.  By the same token, he knows that the long-term health and survival of the organisation must take precedence always over short-term gains.
See:  Schmertz H and Novak W (1986)  Goodbye to the low profile.  The art of creative confrontation.  London: Mercury Books

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In 2009, IRL – a Crown Research Institute in New Zealand – conducted the novel “What’s Your Problem NZ?”.  This program has  been analysed and evaluated by staff in the Victoria Management School of Victoria University of Wellington.  The reports can be found here:


The program itself was novel and exciting: but even more exciting  was the fact that it was a program that emerged for the leadership development program conducted by IRL.  This program has been running since 2007 and has resulted in many projects been initiated, planned and executed by multifunctional teams drawn from across the organisation.  Rather than tacking a more traditional approach of focusing on culture and skills/attitude change, the professional development activities of IRL focus on real organisational needs – projects to directly improve productivity, new ways of doing business, and the development and piloting of new services to client.  The staff learn from the strategic transformation of the organisation.
In term of the following diagram, the IRL development program operates on the right hand side – effecting deep change.  Projects benefit from intense ownership by participants who are mentored by members of the executive (whose roles are strictly advisory and are expected to remove organisational impediments to project delivery).  It is a deep dive process.  A key aspect of the program is that management does not take the idea and manage it’s implementation – rather the project is approved and total planning and execution is left with the teams undertaking the program. (I acknowledge my experiences with IMD in  Lausanne, Switzerland for the  pedagogical framework.  See  IMD )
Recent reviews of various of our research groups has reported widespread change in language and engagement of staff, indicating that culture and skill changes are resulting, and probably more quickly than more traditional approached that tend to focus on change management, rather than organisational transformation.
The above mentioned report gives a flavour our the results.

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