PERSONAL/LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT : How to Get a Head Start? – Know Thyself!

It’s all bit personal really – but in 2007 developing self-awareness, testing individual comfort zones, building leadership skills and staying balanced is as important for emerging executives as it has ever been.
There’s growing interest in the so-called “soft” skills as people increasingly realise that leaders need to know and look after themselves as well as understanding the needs of others, notes Darren Levy, director of short courses for the University of Auckland.
“Leadership and personal development should not be put into [separate] boxes because leaders are people and people are unique and complex. Leaders need to talk more and listen properly. It’s fine to have competencies, but leaders also need to be aware that everyone is different and spend time understanding how people work.”
Around 4000 people year attend Auckland University’s short courses but those aimed at helping executives develop healthier and better balanced lifestyle haven’t historically been well attended because many people are loathe to admit they are not achieving good work/life balance, says Levy. But the courses that focus on personal development do help people correctly assess the nature of their lives and are great way to jump off the treadmill for while to reflect and talk to like-minded people, he adds.
Executives who want to further their careers while maintaining sense of balance in their lives need to work with those close to them to plan personal and career directions, advises Action International business coach and mentor Martin Jimmink.
No-one is born workaholic – individuals facing burnout have not learned to delegate or employ the right people to relieve them, he says. And those with insufficient self belief to go forward need personal development to encourage that belief.
“The main focus for [a leader] should be their relationship with themselves. They can’t lead anyone else if they haven’t got that sorted out. If the big picture is dartboard, then the individual is the bullseye,” says Jimmink.
There is growing global focus on both leadership and personal development agrees Lester Levy, adjunct professor of leadership at the University of Auckland Business School – and father to Darren Levy. There is understanding that focus on management skills alone isn’t sufficient, he says.
“[Leadership] development is certainly not as cut and dried as management training and development; yet lot of people have just switched the label from ‘management training’ to ‘leadership development’. That’s not very honest because while [the two disciplines] are parallel they are also very different to each other.”
However, the term ‘work/life balance’ worries him because some people don’t work hard at all but still have “awful” balance in their lives. Nobody can sit in judgement on what is good for particular individual – people need to reflect on what work/life balance means to them and what they can change in their own lives. It is something that evolves, rather than being some kind of formula.
He believes New Zealand organisations still have strong streak of authoritarianism and says more compassion would result in fewer leadership problems. Personal development would address this.
“There’s still lot of ego and power [involved in management] and many managers don’t have the capacity to engage people. Leadership [in New Zealand] is like one of our new highways that never seem to get finished. We are not well prepared because we haven’t spent adequate time on leadership development. Fortunately, it is changing.”

But which personal development courses are best – and how does an employer know what would best suit their staff?
Ask employees what they want advises Jimmink.
“I did an MBA but was bored out of my head because I prefer to learn by just doing. I advise employers to profile the people they want to develop and then decide [with the employee] whether it is better for them to be personally mentored, or whether they need specific skill set. Then set goals for individuals so that when they return from the selected course or programme there is plan and accountability.”
Importantly, he adds, one goal could be to do less, which can be hard for leaders who find it challenging to delegate or develop others in order to achieve more life balance.
Darren Levy agrees the best place to start development strategy is with staff survey, or focus group. “[Businesses] need buy-in from their people and to align what they hear with the values and vision of the organisation.”
When it comes to financing personal and leadership development, course providers say some organisations seem to have an endless supply of money, while others quickly drop development when marketing budgets get squeezed.
Lester Levy believes professional development should be legitimate expense on par with electricity and rent. “Young people want professional development and if they don’t get it, that’s one of the reasons they don’t stay in New Zealand.”
Rona Davidson, account manager for experiential development programme Outward Bound, says training budgets can also be underused by staff. “Often they could be more proactive in speaking out on what their development needs are; researching appropriate courses for themselves and approaching their organisations for further development.”
More organisations are developing structured approach in identifying talent and high performers, and in succession planning, she notes. Those identified are then developed individually or as group through various team or individual programmes.
Davidson claims businesspeople often don’t take time to reflect on where they have been and what they want to be doing, which is why part of the Outward Bound programme gives people time alone in the bush and encourages them to reflect on who they are and what their values are.
“The courses help people to understand who they are, what sort of leader they are, and moves them on towards an understanding of how to lead, inspire and motivate others. People walk away thinking, ‘there is lot more to me than I really thought’.”
Common employer requests Outward Bound receives are for course participants to have fun, to learn to be more respectful and understanding of each other and to be more aligned and accept differences, says Davidson. Meanwhile, individuals seek personal confidence and self-awareness, better communication skills, and the ability to share their ideas and influence with others.
She explains that courses with themes such as movie-making to encourage team skills can work “amazingly”, but if the goal is to get an individual outside of their comfort zone then making movie with people they already know might not cut it.
“One of the biggest fears people have of an Outward Bound course is that they don’t know anyone. Within the first few hours of the programme we blow through that discomfort and knock it right out of the water. Immediately the mindset of ‘that wasn’t so hard’ is created and this sort of work goes on at an internal level throughout,” she says.

Action International mentors and coaches tend to see the same three challenges in businesses and individuals – lack of time; team problems; and/or cashflow problems.
“As with patient in an emergency department, we work on what is broken straight away. But business is reflection of the owner in all cases and so if the business is not growing or there is problem, it is often because the owner has met their own glass ceiling,” Jimmink explains.
Mentoring can achieve complete culture change; to where the team starts to drive the business. “You can train with the whole team and say this is what the business owner wants and get their input. Business owners can get their life back; can go on holiday again, have relationships again,” says Jimmink.
Darren Levy notes that the short course approach works well for people who lack time, and leadership as short course th

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