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

Leading People is Leading Diversity

‘Reality is diverse; therefore a true reflection of reality includes diversity.’  Nancy Kline

Shirley Wardell, programme director of our research leadership development programmes discusses the importance of encouraging diverse thinking and insight into the valuable skills every leader should prioritise.

I have come to think of the skills leaders need to understand the diversity issues as mainstream leadership skills.  To my mind managing people is managing diversity. Diversity goes beyond minority groups and the obvious power imbalances.  Diversity extends to the subtle depth of how we think, which has a direct impact on how well we perform in our jobs.

Diversity grows when people have the ability to hear, openly, what everybody thinks.  Having practised that skill, with people we believe are similar to us, we may be better prepared to listen to those we assume are more different to us.  The charming surprise is; that as Maya Angelou says, ‘We are more similar than we are different.’ Once we have accepted that we are more likely to be similar in a broad way, appreciating the specific differences seems to be the key.  So how can we be sure that we are able to allow, or even encourage, different ways of thinking?

I choose the Thinking Environment® to help me, and my clients, to create the conditions for diverse thinking to flourish. When you run an event in a Thinking Environment®; everyone has a turn. That means; you go round the group and ask everyone what they think.  Sometimes people tell me it takes too long, but they are really stumped when I ask them who they would leave out of the round.

In an event such as this no-one interrupts and participant say; ‘If I don’t interrupt, I might forget my idea?’ And again, they look a bit blank when I ask, ‘What if the person you interrupt forgets theirs?’ Giving turns, not interrupting, appreciating each other, asking how to make things better and a positive philosophy are a few of the ways to get everyone involved in a productive way.

The Thinking Environment® has ten components; however there are a few principles that sum it up for me:

  • The way we listen to someone has an impact on the quality of their thinking.  If we are able focus on them, stop judging and create a time and space for them; the quality of their thinking improves.  At a recent workshop I asked how it feels to be listened to really well and people said they felt valued, important, as if their ideas matter, that they have a contribution to make, happy, it improved their self esteem, relaxed and intelligent.  Well, if all those things can be achieved by, ‘just listening’ we should perhaps put listening at the top of the leadership skills list.
  • When you think on behalf of someone else you are disempowering them.  When you think your ideas are better, or you are simply too busy for them to find their own answer, you are stopping them from thinking and therefore stopping them from learning and growing.  Being able to develop staff has become one of the most valuable assets to Institutions and leaders who can do this will have the evidence of their success in their research output.
  • A positive philosophy is required to help people perform well.  Our expectations will have an impact on the outcomes.  Those expectations include what I expect from the person and what my prejudices are about that person. I need to be able to see there are numerous and unknown possibilities yet to be achieved for every individual.
  • We also need to examine our assumptions about the world.  What we expect to be possible in this office, this organisation, this market, this country and this world; will have an impact on our own and our team’s thinking.  Leadership training needs to explore the assumptions we make and the impact that has on performance; and then show how to, pragmatically, choose assumptions that will help us perform better.

Research Team Leadership and Leading Research Leaders are run in a Thinking Environment® and include many of the reliable principles and actions that help research leaders to think. They are then able to pass that favour on to their teams and collaborators.

The Thinking Environment® was developed by Nancy Kline of Time to Think

Find out more about Shirley Wardell by visiting our website www.lfhe.ac.uk/resprog

A future focus for higher education

futurist-illustration

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 

Flying too close to the sun

by Dr Mark Pegg

Ryanair plane

For several years I’ve had great fun using Michael O’Leary CEO of Ryanair in my teaching. My provocation was ‘everything they teach you in business school is wrong’: here was a man who became a multi-millionaire by openly doing the opposite of the recommended path to business success. He displays contempt for his ground staff, his flight crew, the customers, the regulators, and sometimes entire nations. He is unkind to people with weak bladders and even politically incorrect with his indifference to the old and infirm, and passengers with disabilities.

I challenged my students to disprove my hypothesis and, bless them, they usually come up with a range of solid business virtues hidden beneath the O’Leary rhetoric:

  • Clear offer to the consumer – low cost, a ‘no frills’ brand
  • Sweat the assets – work the aircraft very hard, no excess capacity
  • Genuinely low cost – stripping out everything possible, and then doing it again
  • Business growth and shareholder value – fantastic growth in revenues and profits, building from nothing to a leading European airline in less than 20 years.

But this chapter in the story seems to be ending and his tale may have to be retold. Mr O’Leary seems to have changed his tune. He has been on Twitter for the first time, and changed some of the customer unfriendly aspects of his website. He plans to stop penalising passengers for minor infringements of the Ryanair rules – no more large ‘fines’ for bags that are millimetres over the approved size. A new team will be created to actually reply to customer emails for the first time and the Ryanair app can now be downloaded for free.

Mr O’Leary told shareholders at their annual general meeting he is ‘… very happy to take the blame or responsibility if we have a macho or abrupt culture’ and that ‘some of that may well be my own personal character deformities.’ Voted the worst for customer service of Britain’s 100 biggest brands by the consumer magazine Which?, shareholders complained that the airline’s aggressive and unfriendly image is harming its business. They protested that members of their own families were offended and upset by Ryanair and ‘reduced to tears’ – so that even they refuse to travel on the airline any longer. Mr O’Leary acknowledged that rival EasyJet led by Carolyn McCall, (one of only two women CEOs leading a FTSE 100 index company) bases its marketing and public relations almost entirely around customer service that is better than Ryanair.

So what has caused this change of heart? Simple. Ryanair profits have dipped, growth has stalled, aircraft are mothballed, and ambitions to annex Aer Lingus have fallen foul of the Irish authorities on competition grounds. Easyjet is gaining market share. That is why Mr O’Leary now seems to be eating humble pie in this public act of contrition. He told shareholders with characteristic pithiness: “We should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily piss people off,”

But is Mr O’Leary really a changed man? I am unconvinced. This may just be a cosmetic conversion along the road: a naked tactic to keep shareholders at bay while revenues are depressed. I suspect the moment there is any sign of revival in business performance, he will be back to his bad old ways. Management Today called him ‘Icarus Ascending’ with the witty inference that the wax holding the wings together might just melt. In fact, he seems to have been more Daedalus than Icarus in the last 20+ years and there may just be a few more years left in the authentic Mr O’Leary. Maybe, just maybe, my favourite bête noire case study can run for a little while longer.

Dr Mark Pegg is the chief executive of the Leadership Foundation.

10 essentials of performance management

by Dr Mark Pegg

Is a great performance management system compatible with academic life? Why is it that most professional services organisations find it so much easier than universities to manage in a performance regime, while respecting the freedoms and independence of their staff?

For most of my career I’ve worked in a performance management system. I wanted recognition and reward for success and was ambitious for career advancement, but I never found my professional freedoms were constrained in any way. Later when I become a director in executive education, I held annual objective setting and reviews, with informal half year progress reports. I contracted with my staff to work on their own initiative, trusting them, sharing and agreeing performance objectives, including internal and external performance measures.

These meetings drove reward and remuneration, but the focus was at least as much on personal and professional development as it was on business achievements. This is best practice, but hardly rocket science either. Not much to worry about here, in fact, it is good to know what your boss thinks, to get a pat on the back when all goes well, and a clear steer if more development is needed.

So what is there to fear? There is no one size fits all and teaching can be valued as much as research excellence. Irrefutably 95% of university staff love their jobs, share the values and culture of their organisation, are self-starting, hardworking, and dedicated, creative and innovative people. From this perspective, performance management ought to be unexceptional for academic staff.

How can the psychological barriers be broken down? How do you do build a regime that works, and what can possibly go wrong? I have learned so much from my own staff over the past 35 years, and if I summarise their views, we might have the making of a 10 point plan for performance management success:

1. A clear vision please – we need to know where are we heading, feel we had a part in it, see where what we do fits, then we will believe, work hard and add value;
2. Delegate, delegate – be clear what you want us to do, but don’t micro-manage, set the boundaries and let us get on and make it happen, don’t interfere except when we need a steer, want your advice or where you make connections;
3. Let’s communicate with each other – we hate ‘mushroom management’ –we are not interested in your day-to-day upward reporting, but we do expect to hear about ‘big ticket’ items;
4. Engage with us – we will respect you if you ask our opinions and show you are listening, consult us as knowledgeable team members who want success too.
5. Support and challenge – the best organisations to work for strive to get better and better and we need challenge to aim higher, although an organisation without support is not a happy place.
6. Openness – set clear objectives but also have a reality check, this is a place where we can broach difficult subjects, where a genuine dialogue can be held and nothing is off limits.
7. Trust and respect – why should anyone be led by you? We should trust our boss to fight our corner for us – for resources, for recognition – do this and you will earn our respect;
8. Fairness – treat us all fairly, praise the best performers, but also coach and encourage lower performers to do more and address ‘bad behaviour’ firmly;
9. Appreciative – let’s go for ‘the glass is half full’ if we can – inspire us to see the opportunities as clearly as the threats, be optimistic, and a little humour goes a long way;
10. No ‘i’ in Team – we want to fulfil our own potential, but we value and should contribute to a strong community that helps us thrive and prosper, a secure place to achieve our personal best.

And finally underpinning it all is a strong process. Performance reviews are our moment, give us airtime, listen as well as inform, keep a proper record of what we agree, have the difficult conversation if you think we need it and complement us and reward us if we deserve it.

Dr Mark Pegg is the chief executive of the Leadership Foundation.

The Leadership Foundation’s runs an in-house programme on performance management visit: www.lfhe.ac.uk/LFperformance to find out more.