How to develop leaders in the era of change?

Jacek Skrzypczynski, leadership coach

What kind of leaders do you want to develop in your organization? Those who make efficient use of tried and tested solutions, or those who prefer creating their own? If the latter, then how do you develop them?

There are two basic paths of learning that a leader can use to grow.

1. Learning from others, through observation and imitation, from books and mentors.

2. Learning from oneself, through experimenting and self-discovery, based on personal experience followed by reflection.

Both approaches are useful and it is worth looking at their meaning and importance for educating leaders, regardless of whether it is an individual or a team. First, however, let me define the most important roles of leaders in organizations.

Why do organizations need leaders?

Basically, I think their roles are:

to create new visions and strategies – to inspire

to implement change with the help of others – to be a role model

to help others in their undertakings – to support

As long as work goes according to a plan, organizations mainly need good managers. However, these days, such a state is rare. Changes, both internal and external, occur more and more frequently. Organizations have to deal with such changes. They can do this either reactively (by managing the crisis), or proactively (by working on their visions and by helping their people to find solutions themselves). This is when leaders are needed.

Continuous learning and improvement, the need for constant renewal of personal and organizational vision and strategy, and the necessity of finding completely new solutions demand an open, creative, and proactive approach based on experience and intuition, as well as emotional and spiritual intelligence –  qualities unique to a given person that cannot be imposed or imitated.

Since proactiveness is a more effective strategy for an organization than putting out fires, we need highly aware leaders who actively confront the status quo and who creatively imagine new realities. To achieve this, we need people with special talents and a supportive organizational environment.

Qualities of leaders and their development

In his book “The 8th Habit,” Stephen Covey identifies four essential qualities of a leader: vision, discipline, passion, and ethics. To develop all four qualities, one must work in the area of self-development: discovering one’s path (passion and vision), based on one’s values (ethics) and interests, in addition to being consistent (discipline).

Through his research Covey established that what is essential for a leader is not a set of tools to be mastered, but rather a set of universal principles of action which he must work out on his own. Tools are second-place to principles. For example, we would prefer to deal with an honest employee who can learn many tools, rather than with a dishonest, albeit well-educated, one.

Covey’s principles are basically character traits that are impossible to change by listening to lectures. In order to develop their character, the learners themselves must actively experiment and respond to important questions. This is why experiential education, action learning, and co-active coaching, for which I propose the common name of co-active methods, were developed.

In co-active methods, the responsibility for learning lies more with the learner than the coach. We are not accustomed to this because our schools teach differently, and that’s why there are difficulties in implementing this approach on a larger scale. Hence Covey’s words, “Leadership is not a state, it’s a conscious choice,” are all the more meaningful to me. The student has a choice to learn passively or actively. Those who learn actively, who experiment more, who are prepared to take risks for the sake of learning, have a significantly better chance of developing the character traits of a leader. The same applies to entire teams and is even more challenging.

How to coach leaders

My work as a consultant, facilitator, and coach has taught me that every person is different and that’s why a thoughtful approach to each person’s learning is so important.  Therefore, in educating leaders I would recommend methods which, first of all, build trust because without trust we cannot overcome our inner barriers; and secondly, which do not impose views or tools, since these can overshadow the unique talents of the individual.

It is crucial that experience and developmental reflection bring the potential leader closer to values and talents that are dear to them, that is, to their most effective and powerful assets as leaders. Suggest or hint as little as possible; listen carefully and help individuals answer questions for themselves to extract what is most valuable: this is the recommended rule.

In order for individuals or teams to take advantage of existing knowledge, they need proper education and training. In order for people to find their own path it is important to employ methods which let them acquire new experiences and which permit deeper reflection  – such as learning through experience or coaching aiming to help learners discover what is inside them and see new possibilities.

Summary

The world is changing at an accelerated rate. The leaders of yesterday are often no longer leaders because they ceased to change, ceased to learn. We know that only some people in companies are leaders the rest are imitators and spectators. If we want to build effective teams, not just crowds of observers, it is imperative to develop more leaders and better leaders.

Today’s organizations increasingly need people who, instead of repeating what others do, look for creative solutions while honoring their values and experience. Organizations will do well if they focus on supporting and developing them.

In order for leaders to change organizations for the better, they must perfect skills of learning from themselves, capabilities of developing through deeper insight into themselves – simultaneously unlearning things imposed from the outside – to strengthen their own unique talents and character.

We can support leaders and potential leaders choosing developmental programs employing co-active methods – where learners are methodologically supported in taking responsibility for their own learning. This requires a very significant change in the approach to people development in most companies. It also requires a change of approach to learning by those who wish to become leaders.

Jacek Skrzypczynski
certified leadership (M. Goldsmith) and team coach (TCI, CTI, EEE)
Adventure for Thought leadership & strategy