Leader: Know thyself

By Annie Gray.

On November 22, 1963 in a speech prepared for a Dallas audience which he never got to deliver, John F Kennedy, said “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other” and that this link between leadership and learning is not only essential at the community level, it is even more indispensable in world affairs.

In what seems quite timely in this day and age, the murdered US president’s prepared speech (according to the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum www.jfklibrary.org) went on to say: “In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.”

A sentiment which must resonate with many global and New Zealand leaders today as they grapple with the complexity and dangerously fast pace of change evident across every industry, sector and country; with the incessant clamour of geo-political change across much of our world and the constant need for ongoing learning.
The CEO of the Institute of Management New Zealand, Fiona Hewitt, says that today the emphasis is on life-long learning and the development of self. She says leaders need to understand their leadership impact and be open to understanding themselves better. “The challenge is to incorporate emotional learning but it has to have a practical on-the-job impact.
“They need to understand their own blind spots and how they work with others.”
In this constant state of change and ambiguity we live in leaders need an understanding of how to operate in this environment and the ability to lead through states of change.

It really is, know thyself.
“How do you give people clarity when the business situation is not clear?”
She is seeing a trend towards short, impactful learning or learning in short bursts over a period of time. There are so many different options and while online learning has impact, at leadership level face-to-face learning is valued.
This is backed up by recent research by Brightstar Training into organisations and individuals undertaking and organising business training. It found that the method the learning was going to be delivered was the most significant thing that drove the choice of training, barring price, and the most preferred option was face-to-face.
The survey also found that the only area of training where respondents intended to invest more in in the future was in professional and personal development courses.
For Hewitt training and events for leaders is firstly about leadership and knowledge of self; of leading through change and how innovation and design thinking is becoming much more prevalent.
Leaders who have been in the workforce for 15 to 20 years, may have had a degree but a lot of learning and events today are around reinvigorating that learning or learning in a different context.   
She points to IMNZ’s new ACCELERATE programme which is all around the transformation of the individual. It includes one-on-one behavioural assessment and gives leaders the critical leadership and managements skills to develop awareness of who they are as a leader.
If anything, she says, there is a constant need for lifelong learning – it’s all about being resilient and understanding how you react to things.

The New Zealand Council for Educational Research’s Lorraine Rowlands, who is the general manager of organisational development, says NZCER’s leadership tool, the Leadership Circle Profile, a 360-degree assessment, emphasises the softer skills, how leaders relate to others and leaders’ self-awareness.
 It measures both creative competencies and reactive tendencies and in turn connects a well-researched battery of leadership competencies with the underlying motivation and habits of thought.

The Leadership Circle Profile has its roots in the United States and has a large market in Australia and Europe. NZCER has been delivering the tool for the past five to six years in New Zealand and it is now being picked up both in the private and public sectors.
Rowland says it also shows leaders their results in percentile scores compared to an ever growing “norm base” of managers.
The profile represents the first unified theory of leadership development. “Underpinning the TLC framework is research from adult development, leadership development and psychology.” And it provides for deep and complex information to be explored by the leader and coach.

“It is about finding and having time to reflect on yourself as a leader.”

As to more generalised learning, what are the preferred methods of delivery?
Steve Scott, of Conferenz, says the Brightstar Training research looked at how organisations are investing in their people in the New Zealand market. It surveyed some 1500 people, both those who go on training courses and those who send them for training.

They wanted to understand what is driving training decisions and found that face-to-face with a trainer in the room is still highly regarded as the most effective way of achieving a learning outcome. Some 77% preferred it both for themselves and for their team. One-to-one coaching or mentoring was also very high up there at 73%.
Free online, paid online or free webinar uptake was preferred by between 18 to 24%, if it was useful to them, and that has doubled in three years.
Those who engaged someone to train their staff (the business owner or manager of the team) had a much stronger preference for face-to-face training while learning and development internal teams preferred online or blended training, significantly more.
Scott said this could imply that the L&D team is charged with creating as wide an outcome as possible for the organisation within a set budget.

So what are the barriers to training?

  • 57% point to budget availability
  • 51% say time away from the office
  • For 34% it’s lack of staff to cover
  • 15% say lack of support from their manager
  • 31% point to travel and accommodation costs
  • 34% say availability of courses
  • 4% said difficult trading conditions

Anecdotally, says Scott, what they take from this is that companies are running lean and it is not so much about money but about time away from the office.
As to the different types of training undertaken:

  • 34% was on professional and personal development courses
  • 33%on technical training
  • 21% on compliance training, like health and safety
  • 12%was ‘other’ perhaps induction training

Scott noted too that how well people feel their organisation measures the impact of the training undertaken was quite poor, with only 22% thinking it was measured well.
But training is important for job seekers. The survey found that in a job seeking situation how much emphasis is placed on training and professional development mattered ‘a lot’ to 55% of those surveyed, 42% were neutral and two percent said it had no importance.

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