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  • Writer's pictureMichael Soderling

Leadership development – does the approach make sense?


– I haven't seen this particular model before, said the CEO at a business meeting where we were discussing a possible cooperation on leadership development in his company.

I allowed myself a “hmmm” since I previously hadn’t thought of my approach as a particular model. It’s based on research that anyone can access and it utilises a well-established methodology, rooted in knowledge on how people tend to interact. But obviously it was new to the CEO and what he had in mind was:

Firstly, that management team development involves working with two phenomena – content and process. Content refers to issues which the group needs to reach a consensus on, such as its purpose, vision, goals and strategies. Process refers to group dynamics or the communication climate, if you will.

The very first thing I do when I meet a team, is to negotiate norms for the workshop and agree on the importance of a climate of curiosity. The discussion within the team usually starts off really well, but inevitably we’ll get to questions that generate more heated responses as differing opinions emerge. Sometimes an old pattern of discussions transforming into debates, becomes visible. Without anyone really wanting it, members find themselves defending their positions rather than solving a mutual problem. Some classic behaviours that make communication difficult may appear, for example yes-butting, leaving colleagues hanging without response, and having a few high-status members talk exclusively to each other, causing the rest of the team to become silent spectators. These behaviours have functional opposites: Asking colleagues to elaborate, recognising everyone’s contributions to the discussion and when speaking, address the entire team, and not just a select few individuals.

Adding insult to injury, teams sometimes place the responsibility of poor communication on specific individuals (“if only John would get a grip!”), when it’s more fruitful to think of communication as something that originates between people rather than in people. By adopting this perspective, it becomes obvious that everyone needs to make an effort to contribute to a constructive climate, thus making it easier for the team to come to an agreement or solve a problem.

The second thing the CEO had in mind was my statement that leadership development cannot be discussed in isolation from organisational development, rather they are interrelated. One recurring observation I have from both private and public sectors is an organisational structure that doesn’t correspond to the needs of the operation and where mandates are unclear. The consequences include frustrated management teams and managers who adopt a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude, and even managers relinquishing their authority.

The third point the CEO reacted to was a consequence of my reasoning in the previous paragraph: When a management team get their processes and organisation in order, what has previously been perceived as deficient personal leadership often fades or disappears completely. People simply have fewer reasons to be, for example, ‘cautious’ or for that matter ‘tough’ in their managerial approach. When I talk to my customers about so and so possibly needing managerial coaching, and I investigate the reasons for the request, it quite often happens that we together realise that the problem is not the person. The problem is the organisational conditions under which the person works.


These reflections of the CEO reminded me yet again of the complexity of organisational and leadership development, and that perhaps my most important contribution is to help my clients realise how everything is interrelated and help them correctly define problems in order to implement the right measures to solve them. Does the approach make sense?

 

The clients who reach out to me are managing directors, management teams, and executives who want to realise the potential in their organisations and accomplish extraordinary results. They reach out to me because of my ability to transform individuals, teams, and organisations.


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