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Monty Halls


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Welcome to the new age of leadership development. Here’s what you need to know.


Only the most mutton-headed business leader has failed to realise that we live in a new, extraordinary, disruptive era – a digital age where new technologies, mindsets, and working cultures emerge at dazzling speed. But what of leadership training? Are the models adopted by many companies and organisations still working along traditional lines, and if so – why?

Stuck in the past?

I would suggest that most leadership training models have failed to move with the times, that there remains a tenacious affection for outside consultants, away-days, and off-site packages. I would also suggest that such models are expensive, time-consuming, and frequently ineffectual.

Much of this stubborn refusal to work in-house stems from a deep-rooted, unshakable belief that a company cannot deliver leadership training to itself, that only outside expertise will suffice. I aim to challenge that notion and suggest - quite vigorously - that the only organisation that can deliver meaningful leadership training to your organisation is…your organisation.

I’m not only putting the cat vigorously amongst the pigeons here, I’m simultaneously machine-gunning my own foot, as I’m an outside consultant who delivers precisely this sort of package, and has been doing so for at least two decades.

I shall therefore - hastily - break down the benefits and the drawbacks of the consultant or off-site package.

Consultants and off-site packages – the benefits

There are some obvious benefits of external consultants. Most very effective leaders draw from experiences from outside their own world of expertise - an external perspective can be refreshing and valuable. It also gives a chance to break from the norm, to challenge established views, and provide a new face to discuss old problems.

All of the really good leadership consultants energise, cajole, shake up dogged views, and inspire self-analysis.

One of the most compelling quotes about leadership states that leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.

It could also be said that off-site packages allow a team or group, jaded by constant exposure to their own environment, to be refreshed and re-charged by new surroundings. Change is stressful for anyone, so to address what may be old problems, but in a new environment, can create that little frisson of tension that brings everyone to life.

If it’s a package put together thoughtfully, and implemented with chutzpah and style, it can have a galvanising short-term effect.

Consultants and off-site packages – the drawbacks

But here we come to the very nub of the matter, the point where a good leadership exercise becomes a great one. It’s a question that has to be asked by any organisation spending considerable sums to take part in such a package.

Just how much of a genuine, long-term impact will any off-site package or flying visit have on performance? On leadership culture? On the development of leaders?

Most short, intense packages should be energising and thought-provoking. But they won’t be game-changing. They won’t have lasting value, and it’s unrealistic to expect them to.

To demand some Damascene conversion of your company in the space of a few days, through a package delivered by an individual or team who have no in-depth knowledge of what you do and how you do it, is a fantasy.

Another approach?

To simply hope the next set of leaders will just materialise within your organisation is to take a huge chance, so there must be another approach. That approach is to provide your own, in-house leadership training.

It is to seize the day, to grasp the nettle, and to say loud and clear: ‘No-one knows our people like we do, no-one understands our leadership requirements better than us, and no-one knows our culture and ethos like we do. We’re going to damn well do it ourselves.’

This careful consideration of the real value of off-site packages is hardly a revelatory thought, as the drive for in-house training is gathering momentum. UK business leaders have responded to the recession by taking their leadership training in-house, they have refined and reduced their spend, and pared back on the use of external consultants. 

But once the decision has been made, how to deliver this training in an effective manner? There are four main problems touted when the topic of in-house leadership training is tentatively broached:

  • Time
  • Money
  • Finding the right person to deliver the training
  • Creating an effective syllabus.

Time and money

Time and money - the two big penalties of external consultants and off-site packages. The two are inextricably linked of course, occupying your people with this training, even for a few days, has an opportunity cost as well as a direct fee.

It’s an investment that every business leader should think about very carefully indeed. Redirecting these funds into internal training is actually, in so many ways, the smart money.

Finding the right person to deliver the training

This is less of a challenge than it might initially seem. Every organisation of any size has someone who has that spark, that glowing ember of potential that is just waiting to ignite. Delivery of this training is the perfect chance for them to explore their own leadership credentials by developing others’.

It is a self-perpetuating cycle - in creating a chance for them to organise, cajole, administer and deliver leadership training, you create a perfect Ouroboros of activity (that’s a self-consuming dragon in case you’re wondering, one who gets stronger each time it eats itself).

Creating an effective syllabus

One way to immediately lose momentum and all credibility is to simply download a few videos of team games, then get (a reluctant) Sylvia from accounts to run them with (a reluctant) group of her colleagues.

Leaders entering a new environment have a three-word mantra ringing in their ears as they deploy. Evolve or die.

No, the training must be progressive, challenging but at the same time all-inclusive, and be measurable. Developing such a programme yourself isn’t easy or quick, but it’s possible, and there are tools out there to help. Get this right, and you will reap the benefits many times over.

Evolve or die

One of the most compelling quotes about leadership states that leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders. The examples are legion - from Lou Gerstner Jr completely re-structuring the IBM decision-making system to empower middle managers (and therefore saving the company) right through to General Petreaus pushing power down the chain of command to help turn the tide in the Iraq war.

To linger on the military analogy briefly - leaders entering a new environment have a three-word mantra ringing in their ears as they deploy. Evolve or die.

It is a mantra that applies as much to organisations conducting modern leadership training as it does any battlefield - the modern, rapidly-changing, super-dynamic business environment offers a world of opportunities, but takes no prisoners amongst those who fail to move with the times.  

One Response

  1. Of course leadership
    Of course leadership development should be undertaken in-house. Studies (refs on application) tend to show that challenging assignments, with well thought-out support, are a very effective means of identifying and cultivating leadership capital. And of course quick off-site blasts by externals have little lasting effect. But the author sets a very low bar for leadership development consultancy. Serious externals provide expertise and methodology that is simply unavailable in most companies. Inside a company, any company, one may find narratives of leadership potency and wishful thinking about development that amount to a collective fantasy invisible from within: leadership development starts with inquiry and inquiry is formative. By definition, an external consultant is able to sustain a broader view of the likely efficacy and sustainability of an intervention. The author has mistaken the nature of the Ouroboros: it is the symbol of the hermeneutic, the process of reflexively critical analysis that is the remedy for interpretive enclosure, exactly the opposite of disappearing up one’s own fundament. A self-devouring leadership development dragon will only weaken, as inbreeding of ideas narrows horizons and concentrates error. Leadership development starts when we differentiate rhetoric from reality. It helps if we also take note of the very extensive research that, by and large, contradicts the author’s assertions. Richard Little, Visiting Professor, Institute for Leadership and Sustainability.

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Monty Halls

Founder and CEO

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