The Leadership Challenge
Graham Moore is a Certified Master of one of the most widely recognized leadership development programs, The Leadership Challenge®, based on the book of the same name. The ongoing research for The Leadership Challenge® was started by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner nearly 35 years ago. Graham’s responses are based on his work as a Certified Master, and The Leadership Challenge®. Graham was recently in Dhaka to deliver a keynote presentation to the 6th Annual BSHRM Conference. He is based in Dubai.
Is leadership development something that has to happen on the job? Or is it something that should be instilled in people during their time in universities?
Often people in organizations think that leadership development ‘will just happen’. People who have been identified as having leadership potential, will somehow, once promoted, ‘develop’ as leaders. But leadership development doesn’t ‘just happen’, not easily, anyway.
Research has shown (in the US) that the average age that organizations invest in developing leaders is 42. And yet when asked what age they think leadership development should start, the answer is 21. Usually, there’s a focus on developing technical skills…. Get your MBA, your MSc….
So, yes, leadership development should start in universities – and earlier. In addressing this need, Jim Kouses and Barry Posner, the authors of the book, The Leadership Challenge®, have developed The Student Leadership Challenge® and this program is widely used in colleges in the US.
As for learning on the job, the best leaders will tell you that they learn from their people every day. Leadership development is ongoing and it requires deliberate practice. Within organizations which want to be successful, leadership development must be a priority and started as early as possible and continued.
What would you say is more important in an organization? Concentrated leadership or shared leadership?
It’s shortsighted and very limiting for organizations to have a culture where the ‘Leadership’ comes from the ‘C-suites’, CEO, CFO, etc, or the ‘top management’. Leadership is everyone’s business. Where there is a culture of ‘leadership at all levels’, organizations perform more effectively and there is greater commitment and increased engagement.
What leadership styles are the best? How does one identify their own leadership style?
I’m reluctant to identify ‘leadership styles’ as these can become labels that the individual can use as an excuse or that others can incorrectly apply to a ‘leader’. The older ‘style’ I’m sure most of us can relate to, as it’s still widespread today, is ‘Control and Command’. Sometimes we refer to this as ‘Power and Fear’. Of course, the ‘leader’ in this case would probably not identify with these labels but those around them would. We know that these ‘styles’ have limited if any relevance today.
What’s more important and relevant are the characteristics of leaders. We call these Characteristics of Admired Leaders. Research, globally, shows that the top four are: Honesty, Forward Looking, Inspiring, and Competence. If we’re going to use a label for a style of leadership, let’s focus on the style of ‘transformational leadership’.
“Leadership is everyone’s business. Where there is a culture of ‘leadership at all levels’, organizations perform more effectively and there is greater commitment and increased engagement.”
Why do Leadership Training and Development programs fail to produce leaders? What can be done to change this?
In my view, leadership training and development can fall short for two main reasons. The first is that in many programs, there is too much focus on theory. Leadership is essentially about behaviors, it’s what leaders ‘do’ that makes them leaders. Sometimes there’s a mental block about that person’s capability to take on leadership skills. This may be based on the now debunked myth that ‘leaders are born’. Well, yes, we all were. Leadership is a set of skills and behaviors – and therefore, those skills and behaviors are learned. Getting past the theory and also the myth that “I wasn’t born that way” is a major move forward for the individual. When people realize that becoming a leader is their choice, then there’s a breakthrough in their development.
The second reason is that there is often little or no follow-up. Leadership development is ongoing and like any new skill, requires practice. We call it ‘deliberate practice’.
This, as an example, can involve a self-coaching approach where the individual commits to focusing on a specific behavior for that day. This might be as simple as “today I’m going to focus on building relationships” (because leadership is a relationship). Or “today I’m going to find ways to talk to others about the ‘value’ of the work we do.”
What approach is better for Leadership – top down or bottom up?
In The Leadership Challenge®, we know that leadership is everyone’s business. Yes, it’s important that those ‘at the top’ set the example that others will see and respond to. Many people will say leaders must ’Walk the talk’. As the American writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”
It’s also important that leaders have a clear vision. People want to know ‘where are you taking me?” Leaders at the top must have a clear vision which they can articulate to others in the team in a way that they will all be inspired to work together to achieve the vision. Even leaders at lower levels can and should have a vision of where they’re taking their team or those around them.
We also know that people perform at their best when they’re challenged, challenged to find solutions, to overcome obstacles themselves. Leaders at the top and at lower levels should always be looking for opportunities to ‘challenge’ others, to ask “Is there a better way?”
Leaders also empower others – or ‘enable them to act’. Leaders should ‘give their power away’, rather than clinging on to what they have by withholding information. Leaders should allow people to solve problems – to do their work – knowing that the leader is there to support them.
Leaders must recognize the ‘extra effort’ put in by staff, in a way that connects with their heart, that is ‘meaningful’ and ‘genuine’. And leaders – at all levels – must give their recognition personally. When people are recognized for their contributions, when they know that their efforts are genuinely appreciated, they will perform better, and commitment and engagement improve significantly.
When leaders ‘at the top’ frequently demonstrate behaviors I’ve just described, there is a trickle-down effect, as others begin to emulate those behaviors. But it doesn’t have to start at the top. Wherever these behaviors are frequently demonstrated, there is an improvement in productivity, engagement goes up and staff turnover goes down. People will love their work, their leader, and the organization and the outcome of this is reflected in the bottom line.