Musing on Leadership Development

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Musing on Leadership Development

I sometimes get a little dazed with all of the clamor about leaders, leadership development, the importance of leadership and the like. Jillions of books, models, TED talks, webinars, thought leaders expounding, etc. What does it all mean? What is the message?

I think it boils down to the fact that leaders determine what happens. Everything we see, know, and experience is (or was) made up. There are extant environmental conditions and facts, and someone gives meaning to them based on their beliefs, values, and personal history, and they envision what’s next and make decisions on how to go about manifesting that—enrolling human, financial, and natural resources, creating a strategy and approach, and leading the action that will make it happen. They make it up…

All the while having to make decisions on the fly as unexpected events ensue, false assumptions are revealed, the game gets changed by emerging factors, and complex interactions between the environment and the resources create unintended/unforeseen outcomes and consequences.

Since these various leaders are making up our culture, society, economy, quality of life, success and failure, and all-important market cap on our stocks, quite a bit depends on who they are, their qualifications, and the excellence of their judgment and decisions.
In our clients’ systems, leadership has been a growing theme for many decades. The focus used to be on the science of management, with efficiency experts, and management trainings. As management theory and practice became embedded as an established component of organizational practice, the emphasis shifted to the art of leadership.

Art is a bit more elusive, and the pursuit of it has spurred the development of multifarious systems of definition, codification, and evaluation, with questionnaires, profiles, competency training, and a Greek diner menu of ways to go about it. Corporations have their leadership development programs, with different curriculum for various levels, from executives to high potentials, to training for new hires on the fast track.

How does one train and evaluate about something (leadership) that is about doing what hasn’t been done before? How does a leader learn how to resonate with where the collective led want to go? All this is happening in an environment of accelerated change, where the half life of learned skills is becoming shorter and shorter, and where our mental models are becoming outdated more quickly, requiring agility, self-awareness, understanding of the emerging surroundings, and being able to act with incomplete information. It requires a new type of consciousness for leaders. Creativity and intuition are important traits—connecting with an inner knowing.

In our clients’ leadership development programs there is a growing trend to create experiential situations that simulate/emulate the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous) environment that the leaders will be navigating on the job. There is a lot of talk about helping them get “comfortable with being uncomfortable”. We’re transitioning from an approach based around problem solving and planning where carefully thinking things out is supposed to reduce uncertainty, to a world where progress is made by actively engaging with uncertainty and rapidly adapting as the results of that engagement reveal themselves, requiring elevated levels of leadership agility.

In the leadership development training process this means developing skills like using a clear vision that guides judgments and decisions, clear direction and ongoing communication as situations unfold, flexibility in adapting plans, not relying on past solutions to address current situations, and taking the occasional leap of faith. There is also a lot of thought that networks are more effective in a VUCA environment than hierarchies, where interconnections and interdependencies based on the unique situation have the speed, agility, and access to knowledge and information to act more successfully.

These types of skills are not easily taught in a traditional classroom training situation. The emerging approach is to complement concept training, mentoring and coaching, interactions with senior leaders, 360 evaluations and personality assessments, and other elements with action learning with cross-functional groups that is debriefed and coached along the aspects of leadership referred to above. This development needs to be reinforced and supported over time, and not be a “one and done”, got my diploma mentality.

With the imposing responsibility of creating our future in their hands, the emerging leaders need support in their personal transformation into their leadership potential that will provide the framework for your organizations transformation(s).

Paul Kwiecinski
I know what you said, but what I heard was…. by Nancy Riegling

“It’s not what you say, but how you say it….“

It’s a safe bet that most of us have heard this adage. As a coach and consultant for over 30 years I have helped my clients to focus on the importance of every conversation. I can count innumerable situations when the result of a conversation was not what someone intended. It may look like this: walking away after a conversation and thinking “that didn’t go very well!”; having a conversation go off the rails because the other person completely misunderstands what you are trying to accomplish; or feeling like you need to go back to the person and get a “do-over”. My experience tells me that we should add a third component to the old adage: “It’s not what you say, but how you say it and the intent behind what you say.”

Elements of a Conversation

In my coaching practice, I have found that it’s helpful to explore the elements of a conversation when assisting clients to determine what may be getting in the way of productive or transformational conversations. In this way of looking at conversations the following elements are always present: the speaker(s), the listener(s) and the intent that both bring. As the conversation progresses the parties flow into and out of each role (listener and speaker). There are many intents that can be in play for the speaker, for example: giving information, gaining support, persuading, asking for clarity, coercing, asking for help, etc. In the same way, the listener is entering the conversation with his or her own set of intents: to defend, refute, question, remain curious, understand, etc. The intents can either be positive or negative depending upon the desired outcome for each party. If there is misalignment between intent and what is said (behavior), or if the intent is less than positive, conversations may actually damage relationships and block progress on personal or organizational goals.

Intent vs. Impact

It is said that we judge ourselves by our intent, but others judge us by our behavior. No one else can possibly know what’s going on in our heads when we enter into conversations. The only way others can tell what we mean is by what we say or do. When coaching clients, I often ask them to think about the notion of intent vs. impact as they reflect on conversations that didn’t go the way they wanted. It’s easy to see how we can run into problems when the impact of our behavior is not what we intend. It’s important to be clear on your intent prior to entering into a conversation. By doing this, you can align your communication approach to make it more likely that you will get the results you want.
I saw this dynamic recently with a client who was responsible for implementing a major change in her organization; one that significantly disrupted the way her peers do their work. In her conversations with these peers (individually and in groups) her approach was to use her expertise and present lots of data to try and convince them that the change was good for them. Using this approach, she began to see a great deal of resistance to the change. I was called in to help with her approach. We reflected on her intent and how to align her behavior (conversations) with that intent. She wanted to engage them in the change and gain their support, however her current approach wasn’t producing that result. In fact, the impact of her behavior was to create even more concern about the change. Once she was clear on how her behavior was impacting her desired result, she was able to adjust her approach. After coaching, her new approach was to clearly articulate her intent for each conversation, briefly introduce the change, acknowledge that the change was highly disruptive and pause frequently to ask for questions or concerns they had. Over time and using this approach, her peers began reaching out to her for more information about the change and seeking her advice on how to implement it in their departments. It was an important step for her in gaining support for the change.

What Leaders Can Do

As we can see with my client in the previous example, there are actions that leaders can take to more consistently align their intent and behavior. Here are a few tips that may help with this alignment:
  1. Remember that conversation is a form of behavior and that every conversation is an opportunity to create the desired leadership culture.What is on our minds when we’re in conversations matters just as much as the actual words we say.What we are thinking has a great deal of influence on how we show up in conversations.(Intent vs. Impact)
  2. Before entering into a conversation, take a few minutes to reflect on your intent.If it’s less than positive, be honest with yourself and see if you are really ready to start the conversation at this time.You can always adjust your thinking about intent after some reflection, and postpone the conversation until you are in a more positive place.
  3. Once you’re clear on your intent, think about how you want to “show up” in the conversation in a way that’s aligned with your intent.It’s helpful to talk this over with a trusted colleague or coach to help get clarity.
  4. If you do experience a less than desirable outcome in a conversation, it’s always an option to go back to the person(s) and start over.One way to start a “do-over” conversation is to say something like “I’ve been thinking about our conversation and it didn’t turn out the way I intended.I’d like to try again.Are you open to talking with me about this?”
By using these tips, you may find that you are having more satisfying and productive conversations.

For more information or if you’d like to discuss these tips further, feel free to contact me at or check my website:
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