Leadership is broken and traditional leadership development won't fix it


If old models of leadership aren't delivering results, neither will the programmes that are built to support them.

Looking around the world room, it’s easy to see that all is not well. It’s not just disruptive technology that’s impacting leaders and organisations; economic, socio-political and even environmental factors are all dramatically affecting our status quo.

Leaders who have drunk from the former holy grail of heroic leadership, despite their business school backgrounds, are floundering and we can understand why. In this age of rapid pace, change and complexity it isn’t easy to stand alone, nor does it prove effective. 

And it’s not only external factors affecting heroic leaders. 

“The high levels of efficiency that typically allow highly task-focused leaders to be so productive often come at the expense of a more people-based focus. Things like building relationships, inspiring a team, developing others, and showing empathy can fall by the wayside.” ~ Harvard Business Review

In the today’s climate of constant change, it’s not simply about getting things done, it’s about getting the right things done with the least amount of effort in the shortest amount of time affecting the outcome to create value for all. This applies to everyone in the organisation. The CEO, even a progressive one, isn’t going to be able to do this on behalf of everyone. In fact, a McKinsey study showed that bringing a new CEO into the organisation did not necessarily transform results and tended to show mixed results across industries. 

“In reality, long-term success depends on the whole leadership team, for it has a broader and deeper reach into the organization than the CEO does, and its performance has a multiplier effect: a poorly performing team breeds competing agendas and turf politics; a high-performing one, organizational coherence and focus.”

Old context leadership development is broken by implication

If the old models of leadership aren’t delivering results, it stands to reason that the programmes built to support these won’t deliver any differently.

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Today’s trend is to develop the entire team together, on the job, in the midst of their most important work. Shifting towards a team-based developmental model, as opposed to a hierarchical one, significantly improves performance, so quotes Deloitte in their 2019 Global Human Capital Trends. Yet the majority of leadership development interventions still have a singular focus. With traditional options ranging from business schools to executive coaching, the focus remains the individual. The result?

According to a Mckinsey survey, only 7 percent of senior managers polled by a UK business school think that their companies develop global leaders effectively. Add to this the fact that adults typically retain just 10% of what they hear in classroom lectures. 

This is why the likes of Google, Cisco and others are promoting teaming and networking within their organisations and building leadership capability within these teams as they go. They move people rapidly and can build businesses and products rapidly having adopted change-agility into their cultures. Governments the world over could learn a thing or two from such business ecosystems.

Developing leadership systemically and in-context 

Traditional team facilitation or coaching focuses solely on the team's internal relationships and functioning. Whilst this is necessary, Systemic Team Coaches importantly also work with the team and its members to build their collective leadership, helping them to widely engage and co-create value with all of their stakeholders – essentially the key ‘commissioners’ of the team.

Essentially this means that leaders are creating and learning the skills needed as they engage with the complexities at hand, not outside of it. Enter Systemic Team Coaching.

Using a future-back, outside-in lens, as much emphasis is placed on how the team leads change with their stakeholders as to how the team functions internally. The ways in which the team relates to and serves its business environment are reframed and enhanced. This approach recognizes that the biggest challenges do not lie within any individual, team or even department, but in the connections between these. 

Isn’t this the radically new approach to leadership that’s needed if we, as leaders and organisations, are to move into the unchartered territory that our world of change demands from us?


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