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Taking the lid off leadership

What do individuals really need to know when they become leaders? We've kicked off a research project where we will speak to leaders across multi-sector organisations to answer the question: what is the experience of being a leader today?

We are exploring what individuals really need to know when they become leaders.

Many would agree that the past can no longer be relied upon to inform the present let alone predict the future, so we’re looking for current information as to what leadership really is. Only then can we design learning to effectively support it. To this end, we’ve kicked off a phenomenological research project, where we will speak to leaders across multi-sector organisations to answer the question: what is the experience of being a leader today?

What’s clear to us is that the changing nature of the world of work is impacting on leadership. Flattening hierarchies, self-managing teams, virtual colleagues, distant markets, instant communication and information overload: how best to survive and thrive as a leader in this constantly moving environment? And how do we equip our future leaders to hold and contain this wild energy long enough or carefully enough to make the decisions that will create and sustain wealth generation into the future.

Humans are raised to seek safety, hardwired for recognising patterns, trusting familiarity, knowing their place, reaching out to belong and stretching up to achieve. How we have structured business and commerce follow these drivers. Look around us and all of these aspects of human need are manifest in the power of logos, the impact of skyscrapers, the networks of professional bodies in which we invest our reputations, the organisational structures we create, and the career paths we imagine and then follow.

But what happens when the world changes so fast you don’t have time to make sense of what’s happening? What happens when there is no time for a beginning, middle and end to emerge? We have used storytelling to make sense of ourselves and our world since the stone age, but what if this no longer works? What happens if ‘calm down’ is a physical impossibility when we face such volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity in our customers, clients, competition and colleagues?

Theories abound about what’s happening and what we need to do within organisations to be successful in such changing times. Ideas such as ‘disruptive technologies’ and ‘agile processes’ and ‘neuro-leadership’ and the importance of nimble, of liquid and global and virtual and hot desks and no desks and mobile and pop-up and social and… How do leaders make sense of all this?

When we offer learning and support to those making their way through the complexity of the commercial world as leaders we follow recognised patterns to embed new skills and knowledge which we know from experience will be useful in their roles. A lot of people have done a lot of thinking over the years about what competencies, what frameworks and what practices are most effective to resource organisations and leaders for success.

Yet, if there is a paradigm shift in the working world and how it is organised and led, then it follows that leadership development and training should shift too. What might the experience of leaders now tell us about what a leadership development programme should look like? Would it be entirely different from current model? Would there be a shift in emphasis? Or are there new dimensions that need to be articulated and paid attention to? Is the content still relevant but the process needs adjustment? These are some of our questions.

Our quest is to ensure that the learning we design for leaders is congruent with and relevant to the leadership experience now. We are looking for individual leaders of organisations or significant parts of organisations, who are interested in offering their experience to inform a newly designed leadership programme based on the findings of this research.

We are asking our participant leaders to commit to a 90-minute face-to-face meeting. This will be a structured conversation, recorded for the purpose of the research, which is to find the patterns in the experiences that we encounter, how they are similar and different, and if anything new or surprising emerges in the conversations.

We hope that you may like to join the conversation, and that our research will contribute to new thinking about leadership and innovation in leadership development. If you would like to be involved or have a conversation to learn more, please contact:

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