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High Performance Leadership: promoting executive leadership

By Cranfield School of Management

For almost two decades, Cranfield’s High Performance Leadership programme has revolutionised the way leaders achieve results within their organisations.

It fits neatly in with the values of the Praxis Centre for Personal Leadership Development; all programmes here work differently than their industry contemporaries.

A crucial element of the High Performance Leadership programme is its acknowledgement that the job of a leader is profoundly different to that of a manager or technician – the programme therefore uses a holistic approach that allows individuals to put theory into practice.

Origins of High Performance Leadership

The programme has run successfully since the turn of the century, with leaders originally invited on the programme to talk philosophically about their roles; they were asked questions that explored what they didn’t know and how to remedy that.

However, the Praxis Centre’s approach changed when Andy Logan was invited to lead the programme. With the help of highly-regarded colleagues, the now-Programme Director sought to make changes to the leadership programme to promote executive leadership in all types of industry.

''One of the major findings was that it was hard to find an adequate model that fit the needs of leaders in all businesses.''

All performance, Andy points out, is context dependent. The challenges faced by a leader in one particular sector will be completely different to those in another Because of this, the Programme Director knew that a mode of teaching had to be designed that had a meta pattern, so that it enables people in any context to be able to deal with what is going on as a leader.

Andy explained: “High performance leadership is not based on models that say if you do one thing, another will happen, and when that does, you will be successful.

“It’s based on one thing which is learning to read the context you’re in, above all else.”

When designing the programme, the importance of the transitions required to move into leadership were also explored; Andy and his team worked with ‘technicians’ from a range of sectors – those employees who have the technical knowledge and skills to undertake work.

The recognition of the role of a manager followed this – you may still be a technician from time to time, but you have the additional role of managing; both have relatively identifiable solutions that you can prove are working with repetition, but there is a transition required to manager level.

The definition of leadership was explored – different to both technicians and managers, as Andy explained: “It (leadership) is different, and the core difference we came up with is that they weren’t about applying skills and knowledge that we know already works to a particular task or project.

“Leadership is primarily asking the question of the future, which we don’t know. It’s even more important as a leader that you’re not at managerial or technical level.”

It means that the teachings of the High Performance Leadership programme are underpinned by the fact that leadership requires a completely different skill set to managers and technicians – the former’s purpose is to prepare the latter two in a way that enables a company to ultimately succeed.

When exploring what the programme should be, another important finding identified how differently leaders are judged in terms of achieving success.

Technicians and managers are primarily judged on what Andy called ‘programmable work’.

For leaders, they are judged on ‘non-programmable work’, whereby the answers for any given task are not immediately obvious.

Andy said: “The very process of being a leader is to have most of your time, effort and significance attached to non-programmable situations. You don’t know what is going to work and what the answer might be.”

Technicians and managers are scored on what they know and they know what the answer to tasks look like – moving into leadership is “profoundly different,” because a leader’s behaviour isn’t being scored – it is that of the technicians and managers who are being led.

Cranfield’s High Performance Leadership programme seeks to help professionals on this journey to look differently at how they are leading technicians and managers.

It is an intensive process, but one that challenges conventional methods.



Andy Logan, Visiting Fellow at Cranfield School of Management. Andy is Programme Director of Cranfield's High Performance Leadership course, you can download the brochure below. 

Tags: leadership, talent, career