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Leadership Development: It doesn’t have to be this difficult

Leadership Development: It doesn’t have to be this difficult

by Moyra Mackie on June 28, 2014

In the absence of other metrics on leadership effectiveness, let’s take employee engagement levels as a way of working out how well managers are leading.

Given that record numbers of staff are disengaged, we can safely say that current leaders are failing on a massive scale.

But what to do about it?

Spend on leadership development continues to rise.  Yet according to many surveys, including a summary of research by the Corporate Research Forum, dissatisfaction with results is also on the rise.

From the mountains of research and 15 years of helping organisations to develop leaders and their teams, I would summarise the reasons as follows:

  • A confusion with the difference between training and learning
  • Too much or too little “classroom” learning
  • No scope for individualised learning tracks
  • Lack of management buy-in and involvement
  • Too much focus on strategy and not enough on measurable skills
  • Inconsistent follow through
  • Lack of focus on the science of change

The red herring in the room: 70:20:10

70:20:10, the Center for Creative Leadership model developed in the 60s, came from research that showed that 70% of learning occurred on the job, 20% from others (usually the boss) and 10% from “training and reading.”

Now I’m hoping that anyone with an enquiring mind will be questioning all of those statistics. After all, if we want change to happen and we want people to do things differently and we don’t have a boss that demonstrates effective leadership, what then?

70:20:10 is a useful framework for improving and extending traditional training and learning into the workplace.70:20:10 was never intended to be taken as a commandment set in stone – but try telling that to some HR and L&D departments.

Let’s stick with science

What it takes to change

In the last decade neuroscientists have been able to show how we learn.  And one of the most important discoveries is that

“You must have a dopamine release in your brain to learn anything…if you have had a good emotional connection with the person who is trying to learn from you, you have dramatically increased the chance of them learning that thing from you.”

~ Andrew Curran,  The Little Book of Big Stuff about the Brain

According to Priscilla Vail:

Emotion is an on/of switch for learning…the emotional brain, the limbic system, has the power to open or close access to learning, memory, and the ability to make connections.”

So, reason, cognition, and learning occur as a product of emotion.  Not only this, emotion stimulates attention.  By sending sensory information into the cortex for further processing and storage, the systems in the brain enhance their engagement with that particular information.

Therefore, if we want people to pay attention and to learn, they need to feel emotionally connected to the people they are learning from or the task they are trying to master.

They then need to be able to put their insights into practice in an environment where they will get help as they learn and change.

Emotional Intelligence drives change

Wherever your source of learning, you need to make sure that the “teachers” are trusted by the learners; that there is an emotional connection between them and that the task is also appealing to the positive learning pathways in our brains.

It’s easy to see why traditional training – internal or external  – and on the job learning could fail to meet these criteria.

Learning – and leadership – is quite simple

You need three things – awareness, ability and engagement.…esnt-difficult/

So a program that works would:

  • Build engagement by connecting individuals  to their passion and purpose
  • Focus on building skills that could be measured and assessed
  • Combine personal coaching with group learning
  • Develop internal mentors to support the learning and change process
  • Encourage emotionally intelligent leaders by developing the whole person

A program that works would also challenge the very way leaders or “high potentials” are selected.  It continues to amaze me that leadership skills are not nurtured in every person who joins an organisation and that leadership development budgets are not targeted more smartly and strategically.

Our program that works encourages clients to:

  • Start with a business that is crucial to the strategic success of the organisation
  • Select managers who are critical to delivering that success
  • Focus less on hierarchical level, team size or experience and more on business potential and ROI
  • Choose managers in “clusters” to help embed a new change culture

Leadership development – it really can be as simple as that.


Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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