What successful leadership development looks like

by L&D12 Sep 2016
Leadership development is absolutely critical in this disruptive and digital world, according to Nigel Paine, leadership thought leader and expert on dealing with technology, innovation and change in L&D.

Leaders who are either unequipped or poorly equipped to cope not only put themselves under major stress, but they mess up the lives of the many people they are supposed to be leading, he added.

Paine recently spoke at the ‘Leadership in an age of disruption’ event in Melbourne hosted by DeakinDigital and DeakinPrime about effective approaches to leadership development in a digital economy.

“One of the core outcomes of poor leadership is a miserable organisation with people feeling demotivated and uncommitted to their work,” he told L&D Professional.

“Leadership is not the only factor but I think it’s a very significant factor.”

The amount of money invested in leadership development globally in the last five years has increased massively to become a US$50 billion industry. However, it has coincided with more discontent with the output.

Paine is fascinated by this contradiction. On the one hand, money is being poured in to leadership development and at the same time many organisations are complaining that it doesn’t work.

“I think that there are some really key lessons about what makes effective leadership,” said Paine.

“I wanted to find out what were the factors that lead to successful leadership development.”

One of the problems is that often successful leadership development is defined by whether or not people enjoy the program.

“They fill in a survey at the end and say ‘It was really good, I really enjoyed it, there was lots of interesting stuff, and I’m definitely going to take it on board’,” said Paine.

“That is not successful leadership development. That is completely irrelevant.”

Successful leadership development, in Paine’s terms, is behaviour change by the participants that is “conscious and permanent”.

“If you want to know how to define that you don’t ask the leader ‘have you changed?’ To which they will probably say: ‘oh yeah, I have definitely changed’,” he said.

“You ask the people who are at the receiving end and say ‘what have you noticed that’s different around here?’”

“If they say ‘nothing’ then you have failed. They should be saying ‘I can’t believe it, but a lot happened that I didn’t expect. I have had much better feedback. This happened and this happened.’ That’s when you start to see successful changes.”

Therefore, you measure successful leadership by the impact it has on the workplace, in terms its performance, how staff feel about their job and about the way they are led or managed.

Paine added that most leaders grow in a world where they supposedly “have the answers and people ask what the answers are”.

However, in a world of digital disruption, you have leaders who have “no idea what the answers are”. Consequently, a new expression has emerged.

“Instead of saying ‘we live in uncertain times’, it’s now about ‘radical uncertainty’,” said Paine.

“Radical uncertainty is when there are no answers. It’s not simply a case of asking better questions or getting more experts in. No one knows.”

To lead through radical uncertainty and through volatility is a massive challenge for any leader, added Paine.

“To say ‘I don’t know’ and ‘I’ve been put in a position where I’m supposed to know’ is incredibly challenging,” he said.

“We have to help people with that challenge because you can’t just expect that they are going to work it all out. That’s where bad behaviour, bad decisions and poor treatment of staff directly occurs.

“If you don’t know what you are doing then you blame somebody else when it’s all going horribly wrong.

“It’s about giving leaders the ability and confidence to lead through uncertainty. It’s a big challenge.”

Nigel Paine is the author of the new book: Building Leadership Development Programmes: Zero Cost to High Investment Programmes that Work (Kogan Page). It is released at the end of September.