Leadership training needs a system approach for success

Leadership training needs a system approach for success

image of Dr Polly McGee

Dr Polly McGee

Leading is an inherently relational verb. While lopsided power is often inferred, leadership is a horizontal exchange emotionally between people:  safety is exchanged for trust, the result being the arising conditions for leadership to occur.  It’s theory, but also practice. Within the repetition of practice, the neurobiology of leaderful action is strengthened and can be embedded in self, culture and modelled for others.

Dr Brené Brown defines a leader as ‘anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.’  This definition positions leadership within the relational axis of identification of potential, and the action to mobilise, rather than in the confines of hierarchy. You can’t assume leadership. You can assume a position or a title, you can move into a corner office and assume a space or a jurisdiction, butthe way a leader occupies is from the inside out and in between people.

Leadership can absolutely be taught and learned – it is a set of skills not an inborn trait, the development of leadership potential however, is the practice of applying those skills in real world situations. This has to happen in a dynamic, vulnerable way, the leader refining their personalised approach, their capacity to create safety, to embrace the unknown unknowns of being relational humans with courage and vulnerability.

A recent article in The Conversation highlighted some of the tensions Tasmanian Leaders navigate in creating leadership programs and training – how leadership translates into practice once the training is over. The summation of the research finding on what makes good leadership training were 5 key elements that move training from being crisp knowledge stored in the brain for recall purposes, to embodied wisdom that is used and evolved.

The first part is people need to want to be at leadership training. Mandated training rarely produces the regulation and engagement that is required for learning to happen. People have to lead themselves to growth, otherwise it is all to easy to tick the box on professional development and return to BAU.

Once people are trained, they need to be able to use their newly learned skills until they become a habit. If you are funding leadership training in your organisation, the wraparound to that investment is the capacity for your people to deploy their new skills, reflect and then refine them in an agile way.  As leadership is self-aware action, it is across a horizontal and vertical access: managers, executive and boards need to be consistently embodying the behaviour and values they are asking the employees to adopt in their leadership training.

The training has to be delivered by competent, engaged, congruent and authentic facilitators. Everyone involved in leadership training: the people paying, the people facilitating and the people participating are modelling the learning in a meta way. All parts of this ecosystem need to be strong for it to work and deliver on the promise of evolving culture. That at least is one part that we can have agency and control over, which we do by making sure we are living and leading what we are teaching with a strong feedback and ongoing learning culture. And finally, everyone needs to be conscious of the collective and individual nature of leadership and culture. Leadership needs to be tended to, it isn’t a one or two day training or a course and its once and done.

Of course we are ardent exponents of leaders learning, but we also see the long game for culture as far beyond the seeds planted in our courses. When you are looking to attend any leadership training, or to invest in training for your people, think about the causes and conditions for success you are creating, and what systems you can put in place to ensure that the outcomes of growth continue to evolve.

Dr Polly McGee (they/them) is a trauma trained neuroleadership consultant, psychotherapist, author and speaker. They spend their time in organisations building trauma informed leadership capacity and psychologically safe, productive cultures; speaking and leading workshops; and working with clients in their private therapy practice. Polly specialises in making understanding the complex neuroscience of humans and leadership practical, entertaining and operational into organisations and cultures.
Polly is a facilitator in the Tasmanian Leaders Program, a co-facilitator in Dare to LeadTM and lead facilitator in Trauma Informed People, Teams and Culture.