Leadership training for a complex world
By Kate Southam
Being able to solve problems faster, cope with increasing amounts of stress and stay cool in a crisis are some of the results top executives report back to Dr Jennifer Garvey Berger after working with her.
A senior facilitator with the Leadership Circle based in New Zealand, the Harvard- educated coach and author travels to the US and Australia regularly to help leaders harness the power of people skills as a way to improve efficiency in all areas of their work.
Leaders across the government, corporate and community sectors operate in an increasingly complex world but as many were promoted on technical ability rather than people skills, they struggle to cope with increasing amounts of stress. Dr Garvey Berger has asked dozens of executives to describe the leaders they have admired and why.
Their answers are similar: "A leader who thinks about, and cares about you as a person. Good leaders don’t treat their employees as widgets or problems to be solved but as people,” she says.
Dr Garvey Berger says today’s organisations need employees who can develop at a much faster rate than at any time in human history so leaders have to be able to support their people to be constantly growing. Leaders need to be able to solve the people issues within the bigger problems they face.
To be successful as a leader “isn’t so much about what you know but how you are with other people,” says Dr Garvey Berger.
She helps leaders develop over many months. Her training programs are not one-off training days where people leave with good intentions but not the ability to change long held beliefs and habits.
Here are some of leadership qualities participants develop.
1. The ability to challenge employees to go further, to reach higher but also support them when they screw up.
“The companies I work with totally want [to do this] but they don’t know how to do it. As a leader you are dealing with your own anxieties – you don’t want someone screwing up on your watch. As a result, leaders send out mixed messages,” Dr Garvey Berger says.
2. A good leader will take the time to “learn” to care.
Dr Garvey Berger says it takes many leaders up to six months to go from having to remember to care to caring automatically.
3. To listen when they feel defensive.
“This is a practice of a lifetime,” Dr Garvey Berger says. “It is about getting in the habit of listening to others first before building your ideas.”
Dr Garvey Berger says it is challenging for a manager to remain open to their team having the answers particularly during times of crisis. She challengers her course participants to ask questions and at first they struggle to come up with questions because they have lost this ability.
“Some ask, ‘how do I ask questions without sounding like a wanker?’”
4. A good leader knows what he or she doesn’t know.
Training in this area is not new but remains confronting. “We are unconscious of our [areas of] incompetence so that is the first step,” says Dr Garvey Berger. “The next step is to operate knowing you are now conscious of your area of incompetence without yet being able to do whatever it is well.”
Other development areas including being able to survey the whole terrain when making decisions in times of stress rather than rely on default thinking.
The Leadership Circle using a theoretical framework to show leaders how they are perceived by their teams. Leaders are shown where they are taking a creative approach towards leadership (driven by passion and vision) and where they are being reactive (driven by fear). Facilitators then work with leaders to help them understand their own leadership style better and enable them to change what doesn’t work and use more of what does.
“We need a lot of optimism right now. It is really easy to be negative. The old systems are showing us that our established ways are broken. We need a whole lot of people that are growing faster than at any other time in human history.”
“Workplaces would benefit enormously by thinking about how the grown ups that live inside them are growing and changing.”
Dr Garvey Berger was in Australia this week as a speaker at the conference, Wisdom at Work: Developing Leaders for a Complex World.
She holds a master’s degree and doctorate from Harvard University and is the author of a new book, Changing on the job: Developing leaders for a complex world.
CareerOne.com.au, May 2012.