Why we need to stop focusing on leadership behaviour

Why we need to stop focusing on leadership behaviour

Chances are if you are reading this post you will have done some leadership development training at one time or another.

Perhaps you’ve been responsible for selecting a leadership development programme.

Or maybe you are the CEO of an organisation who had given the green light to a very expensive leadership development course for your team, only to see no change in their behaviour or leadership style. And now you are thousands of pounds down on your P&L account and with little to show for it.

Which ever most fits with your experience, let me start by throwing some light on the subject of leadership development training.

The vast majority of leadership development programmes focus only on behaviour and changing a leaders behaviour.

On the surface, that would make sense. If you have a leader who is short tempered with a tendency to bark at his team, you would want to see a shift in his behaviour.

However, the problem doesn’t lie with their behaviour.

OK I know you are really scratching your head now!

To help you wrap your head around this, you first need to understand what drives behaviour.

A lot of people fall into the trap of thinking that their behaviour is a result of an external factor such as a deadline, a team member who is difficult, having to have a ‘challenging conversation’ or any number of things that can leave you feeling wound up, under pressure, overwhelmed, angry, frustrated and so on.

Again, on the surface that makes sense. But it’s still not the problem.

The missing link

Instead the problem lies in the power of thought. Which is the missing link in so many leadership programmes.

Even then, thinking is not what you think it is!

As a leader, the more you get lost in thinking, the more you become disconnected from yourself. Your thinking goes around in circles, so much so that you can’t see the wood for the trees. Combined with a lack of self awareness and low levels of consciousness and your leadership style boils down to a set of automated responses, churning out the same behaviour time and time again.

Without that self awareness, insight and understanding of the nature of thought, most leadership training is like teflon.

To share an example, when I worked for Virgin Atlantic as an international HRBP I would attend the Commercial Directors team meeting every Monday. 

VAA had recently invested 10s of thousands of pounds on a 2 day leadership development course. 

Yet every Monday morning the Commercial Director would start the meeting by taking the team through the sales figures and yields – and it was never good news.  As he rattled off the figures you could literally feel the energy in the room take a nose dive and people start to visibly slump in their chairs.

There wasn’t even a check in to see how people were after the weekend!

By the 3rd meeting I stayed back and spoke to the Commercial Director.

“I’ve got to tell you, it’s a good job the windows in here don’t open”.

He looked at me confused. When I fed back to him my experience of his 3 meetings two things happened. First a light bulb went on as he clocked what I was saying. Second, a sense of amazement that he had never realised before, until I held up a mirror to him.

Despite spending thousands, the two day leadership course hadn’t created one iota of self-awareness of his personal impact.

Let me add in here that when I speak about thought, this isn’t about teaching your leaders ‘positive thinking’ either!

Trying to teach leaders about positive thinking when they don’t understand the creation of thought is like throwing jelly against the wall and hoping it sticks.

Leadership development that actually delivers

For leadership development training to have the right and lasting impact there are several things that need to happen.

  1. Take things down a peg or two – When the brain and body are in a state of burnout, fatigue and exhaustion, which many leaders are, the brain is in survival mode. Launching into a day or two day training course from that brain wave state is pointless. Because when the brain is in survival, no information can be absorbed or retained. Therefore leaders need access to resources that can calm down the mind, the amygdala (like an inner smoke alarm going off constantly) and get their mind into an optimal leaning state.
  2. Understanding the big picture – So if we aren’t focusing on behaviour, what are we focusing on? Giving your leaders the insight into what really drives their behaviour so that they gain the clarity to see things as they really are – which will naturally lead to a behaviour change. This means a deep dive into the human psyche!
  3. Consistency – You can’t expect to stick your leaders on a one day course and expect them to transform, like a caterpillar into a butterfly! Your leaders need time, space for reflection, for processing, for insights – those lightbulb moments.  You can experience these during a training session, of course you can.  However, insights also come in the moments of stillness afterwards, when our inner wisdom comes out to play. Therefore having a leadership programme which is longer term leads to far more insights (and a far greater return on investment) that the old ‘one day’ course approach.
  4. One to one coaching – Everyone’s experience of the world is different because of their perceptual filters. Therefore to create an even greater impact and long lasting change, supporting your leadership training with one to one coaching will not only provide dividends for the leaders, but for your organisation and the bottom line.

Thought is not reality; yet it is through Thought that our realities are created.

Sydney Banks

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