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Why traditional leadership development for senior leaders doesn’t work

By Mark Threlfall

Hit the pause button

Standard leadership development programmes stay above the shoulders, and that’s the problem. They’re often focused primarily on the cognitive and a hard set of frameworks and matrices. People are loaded up with content and sent back into the boardroom, groggy from the weight of it.

Faculty at Cranfield advise that leadership has to be learnt and practiced along the way, it’s something personal and individual, not a quality that can be another tick in the box after a five-day course.

All senior managers and leaders reach a stage when they’re looking for a change in themselves, to reach the next level of performance, to find new energy and direction, and that won’t come from referring back to the same intellectual rules of ‘good’ leadership. That just leads to a frustrating sense of a cycle of more of the same. For a reviving transformation to happen there needs to be a letting go of the cognitive. It’s the only way to change behaviours that have been ingrained for a very long time over the course of a career.

Be whole-hearted

Traditional leadership programmes just don’t provide the space, or the pace, for a deeper level of thought and exploration of what senior leaders with different qualities and needs are looking for from their roles, and how it can be delivered for the good of themselves and their organisations.

That’s why Purpose has been designed so differently. Rather than cramming experienced, senior people with more stuff, we’re looking to provide a pause button, to stop the churn of noise, all the conventional, sometimes tired ways of thinking, so we’re able to work smarter on what’s really important to individuals.

And that means involving the whole person, the intellectual, emotional and visceral, and being aware of how they all work together: a making sense of the leadership journey so far, and what’s going to make the next phase even better. Standard leadership training might engage the brain, but change is temporary, reliant on memory and keeping up a conscious effort. When body and soul are engaged, there’s a deeper hook in place that makes change more fundamental, more cogent and sustainable.

Naturally so

What supercharges the mechanics behind Purpose is the natural world. A good part of the potency of the experience comes from getting outside of the office and conference suite environment, to places and situations; the woods and hills, lakes and campfires, where people open themselves up, and where the essential inter-connection between the intellectual and emotional becomes more vivid and tangible.

Scientific evidence is catching up with all the hunches about the value of nature to learning. Something like ‘forest bathing’ is catching on as a trend. Sounds a New Age fad, but the Japanese have invested in large amounts of research which explains the feel good effects; how trees emit phytoncide to protect themselves from diseases and pests, types of essential oil that are proven to reduce blood pressure, heart rate and improve feelings of well-being. Europe’s most successful education system, in Finland, has long been based around structured periods of nature play. One experiment in American prisons suggested that just pinning pictures of the natural world on walls led to less violent behaviours. And in general there are dozens of studies that show how the human mind performs better when there’s the use of a pause button to re-energise. It’s the periods of mental drift and wandering that lead to creativity and better problem-solving.

The most talented people in disciplines like sport, the performing arts, literature, know that short bursts of intense activity need to be followed by a pause, with recuperation, to make sure they’re always the best they can be. Why should business be any different?

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Tags: Cranfield School of Management, featured learning, learning, featured sidebar talent, featured sidebar all, featured sidebar learning, featured all, exec-feature, career development, executive development, executive, professional development, training, study