The challenge was clear: turn left-brained, highly technically focused senior managers into creative, inspirational leaders. “We were looking for development with a balance between something creative and something not too wacky”, explains Sue Dines, from Aviva's Learning and Development team.
Working with Sue, Maynard Leigh devised a developmental journey called Leadership In Action. Its five linked workshops weave through the working calendar over several months.
“Participants need to become dynamic and initiating leaders, achieving through relationship rather than simply giving out tasks,” explains Phil Peacock, the Maynard Leigh Associates consultant steering the programme. “Another theme is helping people become empowered to make things happen, rather than always having to go through the traditional sign-offs at different levels.”
Instead of learning theoretically, the participating managers pursue genuine leadership tasks, but in an environment where they can also observe themselves and each other. So for example, they construct a team project for making a difference in the outside world. The first group passing through the Leadership In Action programme chose to renovate houses for the National Children’s Homes charity. “Since teams go through life-cycles,” says Phil, “we kept asking: ‘Where are you now in terms of how teams operate?’”
When the group lost momentum between one learning module and the next, all the necessary material was available for examining what would keep things moving. “We devoted time to having very real conversations to reach a strong shared purpose. Because of people’s strong commitment, we could get down to the nuts and bolts of the project.”
For participant Jonathan Hyde, these probing discussions proved to be the most memorable aspect of the experience: “I remember looking around and seeing everyone totally absorbed.”
Another way participants take greater responsibility for their development is through giving and receiving of feedback. This starts in formal sessions, where each person hears how they come across, and the impact they have on others. Over the entire programme this becomes more spontaneous, with greater readiness to tell each other what is or is not working about their approach.
Responding to a series of "leadership memos", participants also lead a session for the rest of the team. Each new memo focuses on different aspect of leadership, so in the feedback to the leader everyone can examine each element up close.
Participants also receive personal challenges to complete before the next workshop. In the first completed programme, for example, one person was asked to go on a walk in nature, create value from this challenge and report their learning back to the group. Since this participant rarely made time for such activity, he returned with a wealth of insights to share with the team.
Gareth David, another participant on the initial programme, has found that the five modules continue to affect how he works as a leader. “I’ve done a one-week course before, but then bang – you’re gone. It’s easy with a single course to get it over with and forget it. But this gave real impetus.”
By the end of the programme participants are both celebrating their successes and examining this as part of the process. For Gareth, his most memorable moment was seeing his colleagues holding an Awards Ceremony for each other: “I looked round and saw a strong, relaxed and confident team. I felt we had really bonded with each other.”
Since the completion of the first programme, Sue Dines has received fantastic feedback from participants and their sponsoring directors on what they gained from the course and how it has helped the business.
"I’ve heard from their directors they have this new, can-do attitude and are challenging in a constructive way," Sue told us. "When we first saw them, they revealed a tentative, low-risk approach to decision-making. Now there’s a more inspired approach."
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