As my research progressed, my philosophy about leadership development evolved. In the early days, I had trained, as many of us had been, to hold up a mirror to perfect the reflection looking back. But what I was to learn is that mirrors only reflect. They have limited ability to immerse us in the minds and hearts of the people we work with, the challenging situations we find ourselves in or the sea of data and intel that is swirling around us every day.
When I smashed the mirror, a new image emerged – the window. The idea of a window helped me see that leaders need a panorama to gain a sense of what’s going on around them – a 360 vista that enables us to see farther, deeper and more clearly.
With this shift, I learned how vital it is for leaders to have a sandbox to test things out; how important it is to share challenges and experiment to solve problems together. Making long lasting connections, whether face to face or digitally, emerged as a vital way for leaders to evolve. In turn, these experiential processes facilitate new practices.
As I facilitated programs where leaders taught themselves as much as each other, I saw how structure, frameworks and measures provide both grounding and confidence to take action and to develop “resilient persistence”. What I also witnessed was that unless leadership theory was pragmatically introduced, breakthroughs became more difficult, people’s ability to work with one another became strained and frustration grew. Mistakes were made – and sadly, were often repeated.
And this is where stories come in. I saw first-hand in many organizations I worked in how stories were commandeered as power tools often casting the person telling them as the hero who had slain dragons, beat the bad guy and in some cases, escaped death! I wondered if these stories were actually helping and coming up empty. This type of storytelling came across more as a commodity, as “story selling”. With more research, I discovered the concept of story making. Story making emerged as a much healthier alternative to the blow-hard tales that have become common stock and trade in the repertoires of hero leaders. This kind of story making represents a new way for leaders to use themselves to get to, and support their culture.
These insights came together to help me develop a new leadership system that melds the principles of relational leadership, shatterpoints, edgewalking and story making. For me, after five long years of research, this is the new language of leadership. The interplay amongst these forces has the capability to weave in experiential learning, facilitating a new safe house for leaders to experiment, changing their behaviours along the way.
But something was still missing – and that was measurement. They say what gets measured gets done. According to experts, the need to trace, track and gauge how we improve as leaders remains the biggest missing piece in leadership today. Most people would say that psychometric tests, coaching feedback or the “smile sheets” used as program evaluation forms adequately perform the role of measuring leader development “success”. But to me, these methods are still “mirror-like” reflecting back only a skin-deep view. I wanted to know if the experience had sunk in!
To meet this need, I designed several processes that measure the effectiveness of leadership development. They are designed to support leaders and human resource professionals by providing a pragmatic set of measures that matter in leadership – and more importantly, help enhance skillful leadership capabilities. What this means for participants is a practical learning approach, anchored within a system that helps guide and measure progress and performance.
This combination of experience and measure, supported by structure, frameworks and theory have become my active agents and catalysts for sustaining change. Through this experiential process, leaders and human resource leaders are able to develop skillful leadership capability that contributes to a strong organizational culture and ethos.