Very senior leaders have been leading longer than most employees in their organisations, so it logically follows that they should be better at leading than everyone else. Or so everyone else in the organisation thinks. It often becomes a point of derision that some of the most senior leaders in a business aren’t necessarily very good leaders. Good managers, maybe, but not good leaders.
Making sure that the senior leadership group agree with, and actively model, the leadership culture being trained in further down the organisation is absolutely critical in HFL’s view. Few leadership development initiatives work unless they are actively supported by senior leadership sponsorship and visible actions. Participants need to be held accountable by knowledgeable and competent senior leaders. Most senior HR executives the HFL team deal with understand this relationship between the actions of senior leaders and successful leadership development initiatives only too well. But many also struggle to persuade senior leaders that leadership development is something that is relevant for all leaders in the business (i.e., including them!), not just those leaders below the executive team.
HFL has developed an increasingly successful approach to effectively developing senior leaders in the last two years (something we are increasingly hired to help with). Key principles of this approach are:
• Principle 1: Ignore the common inaccurate beliefs, such as that senior leaders think they don’t need training because they are already terrific leaders, and the corner office, nice car and house, and wonderful productive stock portfolio prove it. Most senior leaders don’t think this. While there are always exceptions, most senior executives HFL deals with, when approached properly, admit that their leadership skills need a refresh, and polish, and sometimes a make-over. They accept that the leadership training they did was years ago, and very often what they got was management training not leadership training. And most accept that the skills and knowledge that got them to their current senior leadership position might not be what will be good enough to keep them in their current role. Dynamic competitive and market conditions require new capabilities, and most executives we deal with are keen to learn these skills and acquire this knowledge to future-proof their careers.
• Principle 2: Create a safe and respectful learning environment for the leaders to undertake their own learning. A senior leadership development consultant out the front of class telling senior leaders how to lead a business (having rarely done so themselves), simply doesn’t cut it at this level, and doesn’t deserve to. Senior leaders need facilitation not training. Unless the facilitator is completely respectful of the senior leaders’ journey and accomplishments, participants at this level disengage immediately. HFL uses very specific techniques and constructs to enable senior leaders to control their own learning. HFL has recruited a special senior coaching team precisely for this purpose.
• Principle 3: Senior leaders need support and encouragement and honest feedback, from people who understand just how big a change in their habits (formed over a long time, nurtured by past managers) to shift from managing (telling) to leading (asking) really is. What senior leaders don’t need is judgmental leadership consultants slyly questioning how a senior executive got his or her role without knowing this stuff. The honest feedback is critically important – the higher senior executives go, the more prominent their blind spots, because they receive less honest feedback from those around them.
HFL has developed a range of approaches at this level, but most importantly we can provide senior HR executives access to a small but highly effective group of diplomatic, knowledgeable facilitator consultants, all of whom have led businesses in their past and have in their later years come to leadership development as a profession. This is a team with track records, kudos, and who have been in the hot seat themselves and really know what it feels like. They haven’t just read about it in a book.
If this sounds like the type of team you need to deploy in your business to develop senior leaders, and help them make the shift from manager to leader, please contact us.