Author: Sarah Tocker, Tocker Associates
Sarah Tocker a leadership expert at Tocker Associates, recently wrote a guest blog for Skills providing insight into the importance of getting leaders to understand themselves and how we can nurture their development.
Developing leaders is the work of future-proofing. Predicting the skills, capabilities and competencies that will be required over a 2-5 year timeframe is a challenging exercise, particularly as boards, CEOs, strategic plans, economic and world impacts continue to shift like sand on a windy beach.
We know that it’s easy to understand the theory of leadership, but tough to do it.
What we are starting to understand is the link between our early experiences and the way we lead. It turns out that the assumptions and behaviours we develop in the first 25 years of life leak through to our approach to leadership like water through a sieve. If we want to develop leaders, we have to talk about the assumptions they hold, their view of the world and the way they see themselves in relation to others.
These are hard but important conversations, but sometimes it can feel as though these conversations overstep the ‘work’ boundary which we have set. As organisations and businesses, we have made the assumption that leadership is a work thing, or a community thing, but actually, it’s a deeply personal thing.
Recently, we took a group of 12 leaders, aged 23-59 from different businesses to Outward Bound. We gave them the opportunity to see who they really were in times of pressure, uncertainty and complexity. We asked them to look into the assumptions they had long held about themselves and to question these. We asked them to listen to opposing and conflicting points of view, and we watched them rethink a few ‘truths’ in the process.
The whole thing took four days. We haven’t transformed them into super-leaders in this time, but we have created an opportunity to think about the people, and subsequently the leaders they could be, and that sense of possibility sets a new frame for their expectations of what they can expect from themselves.
Some questions you can ask when you look at your own leadership development work are:
- What are we expecting of our leaders, now and in 5 years’ time?
- How easy is it to be a ‘whole person’ in our organisation?
- What are the opportunities we have to build connections and reflect on people’s early experiences?
- Do our developmental leadership experiences focus on teaching skills or behaviour and thinking- are they technical skills programmes on how to coach, deal with conflict and so on; or are they programmes that ask people to reflect on what ideas and assumption they each bring to these skillsets?
In our roles as HR, OD, L&D professionals, we can help by building connections, understanding and helping people to see themselves as a whole, and move on from trying to develop people as 8am-5pm leaders.
Leadership development needs to reflect the reality of people – their messiness and complexity. People and indeed leadership experiences are tidal and shifting. Sometimes the seas are rough, and sometimes calm. We need to help develop people who understand themselves well enough to lead whatever the conditions.
About the Author
Sarah Tocker, Tocker Associates, is an experienced facilitator and coach who has worked throughout the country across all sectors, focusing on people development, planning, organisational communication, and long-term development strategies. Sarah’s areas of expertise are coaching and leadership development, as well as communication and strategic thinking. Sarah works with organisations in areas such as team conflict, team development, communication skills, strategic planning, developing competency frameworks, and strategic initiatives.