How effective are simulation experiences for leadership development?

One of the most effective techniques we use in our leadership development interventions is to provide leaders with a simulated environment. This challenges them to confront complex, highly interwoven performance management and operational issues. But how effective is this in practice? We spoke with Paul Hessey, Leadership Foundation associate, who leads on this activity on our Leading Departments programme for new heads of department.

How does a simulated environment work?
Based on a very realistic university scenario, this usually involves the programme participants working in groups of six along with three actors who take on the roles of stakeholders and the dean. The simulation is designed to present participants with realistic scenarios they might encounter in their day-to-day work as a head of department. This gives the facilitators the opportunity to help participants’ identify their weaknesses and strengths and enables us to offer guidance and best practice on how to approach difficult situations.

What are the three main benefits of using a simulated environment on a leadership development programme?

  1. Participants are reminded of some simple, robust and powerful theory of influence and learn the skills they need to put that theory into practice in a safe environment.
  2. Reflect and receive tailored feedback on strengths and development opportunities.
  3. Be part of a rich and diverse range of colleagues from both professional service and academic roles, and benefit from observing a wide range of approaches to influencing in action.

Have participants ever surprised you with how they reacted to this type of role playing style activity?
Our approach is more ‘real play’ than ‘role play’ because essentially the participants are experimenting with being themselves in the scenario, rather than taking on a character. In terms of being surprised by how participants react to these activities I am always taken aback by the way participants are committed to a mythical department. They really immerse themselves into the activity and come up with creative ideas and solutions. During a programme’s coaching sessions I found that many participants realised that they want and need to take a more strategic view of their role; in particular delegating more so they can take a step back to better develop and promote their own department through running events and engaging with a pool of stakeholders. These scenarios also increase their awareness of the importance of owning their professional profile and reputation.

What would you say to those who are sceptical about real playing on a leadership development programme?
Real play has an interactive approach which means participants can take a very practical look at how people communicate and influence, and then experiment with different approaches. Real play gives participants the chance to safely assess and practice an expanded range of influencing, management and leadership techniques to help them better engage their own diverse stakeholder base.

Higher education is a very unique sector. In your years of experience of working in different sectors, do you notice any similarities?
Many! People face the same challenges other sectors do in terms of politics and culture. However, in higher education people are perhaps more motivated by their desire to achieve their professional objectives rather than financial incentives. In higher education environments in particular, I’ve noticed that leaders may have less access to organisational benefits and consequences to motivate those around them. They are therefore often seeking to achieve action in their institutions by influencing others without any direct authority or power to demand action. Instead they must find a way to overcome resistance and challenge and encourage staff to buy-in and commit to the mission in a positive way. Many participants have said that they leave the Leading Departments programme feeling more equipped and confident to do exactly that.

Paul Hessey is the programme director for the Leading Departments programme, designed to develop the leadership skills of heads of department. The booking deadline is Friday 6 October, to find out more about Paul or to book onto the programme visit www.lfhe.ac.uk/leaddepts

He is also a facilitator on the Introduction to Head of Department programme for new and aspiring heads of department. The booking deadline is Friday 27 October, to find out more and book visit www.lfhe.ac.uk/ihod

Other Leadership Foundation programmes that use simulated learning environments include:

Top Management Programme: www.lfhe.ac.uk/tmp

Future Professional Directors: www.lfhe.ac.uk/fpd

Talent management – for the many or just the few?

Dr Wendy Hirsh, co-author of Talent Management: Learning Across Sectors, the Leadership Foundation’s latest research publication, challenges higher education to consider the development of staff in the same way they would the learning growth of students.

Working on talent management with many organisations, their managers and staff, I often encounter unease and even hostility to the possibility that some development opportunities might be offered to some people but not others. So is talent management for the many or the few or can it be both?

If we unpick this issue from the business perspective first, we see that the ideas of business needs and business risk are very central to what organisations in a range of sectors mean by the term talent management. Talent management is absolutely not about giving employees all the development they would like, but about prioritising business investment in development where it will make the most difference to business effectiveness – and decrease business risk. Therefore it must be central to an organisation’s strategy.

However, often in universities, the human resources and talent management strategy (if it exists) sits alongside the core priorities and can become disconnected. This blog draws from new case study research commissioned by the Leadership Foundation to learn about talent management as practiced in other sectors. A key issue for universities like other organisations is whether to focus development resource on the many or the few.  For example, does a university need to invest in senior leadership, mid-career academics and professionals or helping younger researchers gain the skills and exposure to get their feet on the funding ladder? The answer to this question will always be a mix, but it is unavoidable that the decision will be informed by budgets and capacity if nothing else.

The public sector in the UK has traditionally been very good at investing in those just starting out on their careers and those near the top. This can leave the “middle” neglected. The more successful businesses, for example leading technology and professional services firms recognise the importance of prioritising and developing the capacity of the “middle” by redesigning roles, changing work and skill mix and business practices. The message here is this kind of development is not just about courses but about giving well established staff access to new experiences, extending and expanding roles, such as being involved directly in leading change, albeit supported by  informal coaching, mentoring or perhaps learning sets to practice new approaches. We suggest universities might usefully re-examine the capability of their experienced teachers, researchers and professionals, assess the skills gap and unfulfilled potential and use institutional wide talent management strategies as an enabler for success in an increasingly competitive environment.

We also see some talent management priorities arising from labour market shortages in what companies often call ‘operationally critical’ jobs or workforce groups. For example, some universities find it difficult to fill technician roles when long-serving staff retire or find clinical-academics in areas like medicine when higher salaries can be earned outside the academy. These are national, not institutional problems. Pharmaceutical companies adjusted their training pipelines for technician roles many years ago to accommodate both graduate and vocational routes and to raise skill levels to respond to increasingly complex lab techniques and equipment. Such issues could be addressed by universities sectorally or regionally as well as individually.

The second set of business decisions about priorities is trickier. Will we develop everyone in a particular workforce group to the same skill level or will we sometimes select individuals for more stretching development activities? The trend here in other sectors is clearly to aim for a both/and answer to this question. For example, companies are re-investing in first line manager training for all such managers, because good management is so central to the performance, engagement, development and retention of the people they manage. However, on top of this universal development, a talent management approach may also be trying to spot first line managers who want to progress their careers and have the ability to do a bigger or more complex management job. Depending on the context, a university may be wanting to invest in people already thinking about becoming a Head of Department, or looking a bit earlier for individuals who simply want to grow and are interested in exploring their leadership potential. Such individuals may be offered more stretching developmental opportunities to help them progress their careers and also to test their career preferences. The Leadership Foundation’s Aurora programmes and Athena SWAN does something of this kind for women in academia. So taking a business view, different kinds of development investment may address both the many and the few.

Of course, if organisations try and spot potential for career progression, they need to be very careful to avoid managers just developing their favourites or perpetuating inequalities of gender, race and so on. This is why talent management does have to be inclusive and include relevant definitions of potential for different kinds of jobs or levels in the organisation, test and challenge the views of individual managers and integrate talent management with real time tracking of diversity and inclusion data.

Moving from the organisational to the individual perspective, the idea of a Personal Development Plan is long established. However, other sectors are trying to move this away from being just about courses and to make it individually tailored and genuinely personal – that is related to the strengths and needs of each person and their situation. So we would not expect PDPs to give the same development to everyone doing the same job. PDPs are also being modified to include career-related development as well as development to improve performance in the current job. Talent management explicitly includes talking to individuals about their career aspirations and interests. There is little point developing someone towards being a Head of Department if this is simply not something they want to do or if they show no sign of the people skills required to do it successfully.

In essence talent management brings together these two perspectives and has to be “everyone’s business” and not just human resources “baby”. It needs to focus development where it is needed by the business and where it matches the aspirations and abilities of individuals. When it works well it’s a win-win for the “many” in the organisation and also for the “few” at the level of the individual. But to go down this route, we have to get used to the idea that not everyone needs to learn the same things at the same time in the same way. The best universities aspire to attend to the individual needs and interests of their students – supporting those who needs extra help and challenging those who can go further. Why would they wish to do less for their staff?

Dr Wendy Hirsh is an employment researcher and consultant specialising in career development, talent management, succession planning and workforce planning. Talent Management: Learning Across Sectors, was co-written with Elaine Tyler, Research Fellow, Institute for Employment Studies.

Download the report here: www.lfhe.ac.uk/hirsh5.8

A future focus for higher education

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Vijaya Nath, director of leadership development reflects upon leadership, the future and working with influencers in higher education.

While 9 November 2016 will forever be associated with tumultuous political change in the US, it also brought into stark relief the change process that political decisions unleash across all sectors – and the relationship between our two higher education sectors. In such circumstances, leadership and the ability to think interdependently becomes increasingly important.  On 9 November I was with colleagues from across HEIs – my first formal engagement with the higher education community – at the annual Staff Development Conference. My session was on Higher Education: Future Focus, which fitted with the theme of the conference, Future Fit, and the commitment to developing excellent practice that staff developers share with those of us from external development organisations.

Exploring the five main forces driving change globally “now and next” (using the ideas of futurologist and personal colleague Richard Watson), we first looked at the potential impact of demographic change, including an aging population and aging workforce, for the UK and the challenges and opportunities this brings to higher education. Just hours after Trump’s election victory, the next of the five forces – power shifts east – was also a stimulus in a post-Brexit world that most staff developer colleagues agreed was in sharper focus. The impact caused through being better connected globally (the third force) and sustainability (the fourth force) were concepts that most colleagues found familiar. The last of the five forces, GRIN technologies (genetic prophesy, robotics, intuitive internet, nano materials and artificial intelligence), was found to be of topical relevance as many staff developers were focused on new learning technologies and the impact of these on teaching and learning in HEIs.

When hypothesising about the impact of two of the five forces – demographics and GRIN technologies – staff development colleagues expressed the importance of up-skilling themselves. They also recognised the need to extend their influence to enable a greater number of academic and non-academic colleagues to appreciate the change process necessary for HEIs to face the future with confidence and maximise the potential benefits and challenges.

This session, in tandem with the following session, enabled staff development colleagues to focus on a future that gives priority to growing a learning culture within their organisations and enabling their HEIs to foster cultures which are responsive to changes in their domain and in which innovation will thrive. This is Future Focus.

More recently, following the SDF Conference, I was pleased to facilitate a morning with Richard Watson for senior strategic leaders in HEIs. With Richard’s expert input, it was an opportunity to initiate a conversation with a group of senior leaders on how the five forces Richard associates with global change will impact higher education in the four countries of the United Kingdom.

Richard reminded us of the challenge that leaders in higher education face, contrasting the pace of volatility, uncertainty and ambiguity that characterise this current period with the mindset, tool set and agility needed to tackle the issues this period brings. This is sometimes matched by a cohort of leaders who are anxious and who may appear slow to react as events unfold.

Richard set out the process he follows for building an exploration of the future. This begins with identifying the big questions you believe you might face as leaders in your sector. From these ‘‘burning questions” come a series of trends and patterns related to the questions.  These trends and patterns lend themselves to scenario planning (an activity with which many sectors engage but to which few give enough time). The generation of these future scenarios is often predicated on leaders being able to look at what would need to disappear and, conversely, what new innovative practices and mindsets may be needed for the new possibility to become a reality.

We applied this process to a short guided exploration of the future for higher education from the perspective of this senior leadership group. Reflecting on the burning questions generated by the senior leaders, a number of these were focused on the impact of future demographic trends on higher education. These questions included the impact of declining fertility rates, and an ageing population. In the ensuing discussion, the opportunities and challenges of demographic change led to a possible future trend of growing higher education provision targeting the silver surfer generation and an explosion of concepts such as the University of the Third Age alongside more catastrophic predictions eg university closures due to falling UK student numbers.

Leaders were keen to explore the impact of technology and innovation made possible through the growth of artificial intelligence and the “industrialisation” of learning via enhanced smart technology, as Richard referred to a blurring between digital and physical. This leadership activity requires the strategic change leaders to take a step back and engage in bold thinking. Higher education leaders may not be able to predict all that the future holds in the next 30 years but they can and should be able to influence it.

As the minutes ended on my second interaction with leaders in my new sector, I recalled and shared a philosophy I have held as a developer of leaders for 26 years and across a number of sectors: if we can understand how we learn, then we can understand how we lead.

We are committed to using the insights that this senior leadership group produced in co-creating new innovative leadership development interventions. The graphic above demonstrates the possibilities of working in new ways as we continue to support the Future Focus for higher education.

Ends

Vijaya Nath leads the Leadership Development operation at the Leadership Foundation. The portfolio of development for higher education institutions include options that are delivered face-to-face, online only and also in a mix of both formats (blended learning). They are designed for leaders, managers and those that aspire to such roles from across all disciplines and types of institutions. Programmes and events include one-day events for governors; the flagship Top Management Programme, that has over 700 of the most senior people in higher education in in its alumni including 60 current vice-chancellors. There is also Aurora, the women-only development scheme that has already seen almost 2,500 participants in its first three years.

Watch Vijaya Nath discuss the future of higher education and the need to create political powerbrokers on our YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVUzlTtfCUI 

The Brexit blogs: what do followers need and expect?

In the latest in our Brexit blogs series, programme director Doug Parkin considers the ART of leadership – authenticity, responsibility and trust.

ART

Let’s turn the whole leadership thing on its head and ask, instead, the question “what do followers need and expect?”  What do they need to follow willingly and with energy and commitment, and what do they expect from leaders in terms of behaviour, communication and relationship?  And before we become too fixated on polarised notions of leaders and followers, it is important to acknowledge that great followers are as important as great leaders. Most of us occupy both roles in our lives at different moments and in different ways, and there is often a grey line between the two as leadership is shared and followers become empowered.

Starting from perhaps quite a low base, following the recent EU referendum and Brexit decision, trust in public/political leadership has taken quite a battering and a real appetite seems to be emerging for more authentic, genuine and sympathetically attuned or connected leaders.  These are themes consistently engaged with on Leadership Foundation programmes.

Authenticity – a little thing called integrity

There is a courage that sits at the heart of authentic leadership that is about showing who you really are through “being” who you really are: the big difference, for example, between saying you have integrity and showing you have integrity. Authentic leaders do not lead from behind a mask.  James Kouzes and Barry Posner had, at the core of their enquiry into leadership, the question “what do you most look for and admire in a leader, someone whose direction you would willingly follow?” The leadership quality that was ranked consistently top over more than 20 years by a very large set of contributors across six continents was “honest”.  Their work shows this to be “the single most important ingredient in the leader-constituent relationship” and that “regardless of what leaders say about their own integrity, people wait to be shown; they observe the behaviour”.  The top four personal traits and characteristics for willing and committed follower participation, identified with remarkable consistency, are:

  • Honest
  • Forward-looking
  • Competent
  • Inspiring

Responsibility – misleaders

Leaders also have a responsibility to be honest in their communications and engagement, particularly around change and when portraying a vision of the future.  Manipulating people either through the content and manner of communication, or through the style and timing of engagement, will cause the leader/follower relationship to crumble or, worse still, turn toxic.  There is certainly a sense-making role for leaders, particularly when operating in complex and uncertain environments, and that may involve putting across the truth of a situation “as I see it”.  But that is very different from misleading people, or preying on their fears and insecurities to sell a particular position or develop a sense of urgency.  Leaders should be “dealers in hope” (Napoleon Bonaparte), not peddlers in fear, and, whatever the situation, they need to live by the principle that “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

In their 2011 book of the same name, John Rayment and Jonathan Smith identify four main types of MisLeadership: missing, misguided, misinformed and Machiavellian. Alongside these, particularly the cunning and duplicity of the Machiavellian leader, we could perhaps add a fifth form of misleadership, the knowingly misleading leader.  To knowingly mislead in a trusted leadership role is quite simply a betrayal of responsibility – a betrayal of followers.

Trust – the glue that binds followers and leaders together

Integrity is fundamentally about the person of the leader and the degree to which they are able to inspire trust and carry respect.  The importance of trust for successful and engaging team/organisational leadership cannot be emphasised enough: “trust is the emotional glue that binds followers and leaders together.  A survey conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management and the journal Management Today in 2009 used the following six dimensions to establish an index of leadership trust: ability, understanding, fairness, openness, integrity and consistency.  The findings of their survey of over 5,000 UK employees pointed to one clear conclusion, “integrity is the foundation of trust and it grows in importance with seniority”[1]Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, takes this still further by making trust the core foundation of high functioning or high performing teams.  And linking back to authenticity, Lencioni teaches us again the importance of honesty and vulnerability in leadership:

“Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Megatrends survey in 2013 revealed that just 37% of employees trusted their senior managers.  (One could speculate, perhaps, where this figure might be with regard to national political leadership at the current time…).  This built upon a series of case studies published the previous year calledwhere has all the trust gone?  Following this, in 2014 the CIPD produced a research report called Cultivating Trustworthy Leaders, which identified four pillars of trust:

  • Ability – demonstrable competence at doing their job or fulfilling their role.
  • Benevolence (genuine concern) – a concern for others beyond their own needs and showing levels of care and compassion.
  • Integrity – adherence to a set of principles acceptable to others encompassing fairness and honesty, while avoiding hypocrisy.
  • Predictability – a regularity of behaviour over time.

Column

Authenticity begins in the heart and works outward through the values we embody and the behaviours we display.  The integrity that flows from this creates a core responsibility for leaders not to mislead others for their own purposes.  And, to complete the ART of leadership, trust is the essential ingredient in the leader/follower relationship that enables teams and organisations to flourish.

Doug Parkin is a programme director for the Leadership Foundation and is responsible for a range of open programmes – including Future Professional Directors, Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership and Leading Transformation in Learning and Teaching (in collaboration with the Higher Education Academy). He also undertakes bespoke consultancy assignments for universities and works on some of our main international projects. Key interests include educational and research leadership, the leadership of professional services, strategy development, organisational change and leadership for sustainability.

[1] Campbell, S. (2009). The Truth about Trust, Index of Leadership Trust Special Report. Edge Magazine, The Institute of Leadership & Management, UK, September 2009: 20-25

Heroes: David Bowie

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by Dr Mark Pegg

‘David Bowie is’ an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  It is the best £25 I have spent in a long time and I wanted to book again as soon as I had seen it.  As a student in Oxford back in the seventies Bowie was a huge influence – all on vinyl LPs – I played air guitar in my room to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I loved every track.  My wife Jane revised for finals with Diamond Dogs playing over and over again.

David Bowie was a hugely creative influence, combining performing arts and fine art in one – he turned his hand to most of them – a new model renaissance man for our generation.  But there is more.  For such a creative man, David Bowie tells us much about leadership – an icon of the age, he worked prodigiously hard for his success; a creative genius needed perspiration to create inspiration.

He exhibits many of the characteristics needed for successful leadership in creative communities:

  • Vision – from the beginning he wanted it, he set out to make a career in music and to do it differently
  • Continuous learning – although he seemed like an over-performing art school student, he actually attended a technical school and learned quite different skill sets as a young man.  He was a huge sponge for ideas – reading, listening, watching, learning where ever he could and loading it all into his data base
  • Patience – he was by no means an instant success, he quit his job in an advertising agency to become a full time musician, but was prepared to spend over 5 years absorbing and learning his trade, searching relentlessly for that vital creative spark
  • Creativity – the essence of the creative mind, Bowie generates a huge flow of ideas, all kinds of ideas – so many things came to nothing, he throws out a huge excess of ideas with some gems – his challenge is to find those winning ideas in all this richness
  • Courage – he is never afraid to try new things and abandon them if they do not work or prove to be too expensive or impracticable
  • Confident – he believed in his vision, with great self-belief in his own talent and creativity and resilient, able to withstand all kinds of early failures – his creative talent was not initially recognised and his first record performed on television was voted a ‘Miss’
  • Commitment – he has never been afraid of hard work – a colossal work rate, restless to find new genres, new ideas, new blends of different media
  • Performance – never being afraid to move on to a new performance curve, to reinvent himself, to stop even when things are going really well and restlessly to launch a new theme, a new creative genre
  • Image – he knows you have to look the part – his is style and substance – a powerful image, he is looks great in a suit, it might be green, blue or grey but the cut is impeccable and he always looks cool and elegant
  • Great communicator – Bowie is not perfect, secretive at times, hard to know and he has a history of drug addiction, but he has always known that it is not just what you do but also how you are perceived to do it and skilful PR and marketing tools have been at the heart of everything he does.

Mark Pegg is the chief executive of the Leadership Foundation.