Ensuring efficacy in leadership development programs gets progressively harder the higher up you go in organizations. The context in which leadership takes place has also grown increasingly complex and dynamic in the last century. What does this mean in terms of our efforts to train and grow adaptive leaders fit for the future?
As long as one lives in a sophisticated metropole like Singapore, we’d be spoiled for choice in terms of leadership development programs, experiences, and conferences. However, even for global multinationals with generous leadership training budgets, the choice and selection of leadership development interventions remain largely confined to those embracing traditional teaching methods, i.e. transactional, instructive and generic. Most of the best custom-designed programs with real world applications and experiential learning formats such as simulations, case studies, action learning, and site visits may still not be able to truly “teach” leaders critical 21st century leadership skills around adaptability, resilience and sensemaking.
The case study method developed and championed by the Harvard Business School depicts real life business and leadership challenges which can be analysed, discussed and even “experienced” when the main protagonist of the case is brought into the classroom e.g. CEOs of the studied organizations. While this approach is effective in driving critical thinking and analyses, there are missing pieces to the learning puzzle which bridges the gap between lessons learnt and how it may be applied in one’s own context and according to one’s own challenges. Thus while case studies bring some semblance to reality, leaders may still struggle to appreciate the significance in their own lives.
How can we address this critical gap between classroom and reality? At Linkage, we often use a hybrid approach to leader development. One which combines the well-established Case-in-Point (CIP) facilitation methodology with active Point-of-View (POV) contributions by participants.
Case-in-Point methodology strives to connect leadership theory to practice in a visceral way, by creating a learning environment analogous to the real world – chaotic, unpredictable, stressful, interactive and bound together by complex relationships.
Ronald Heifetz at the Harvard Kennedy School, one of the top thinkers in the field of leadership development and well-renown author of Adaptive Leadership, developed a methodology he described as Case-in-Point. CIP methodology strives to connect leadership theory to practice in a visceral way, by creating a learning environment analogous to the real world – chaotic, unpredictable, stressful, interactive and bound together by complex relationships. Instead of merely teaching leadership skills and imparting knowledge, CIP is a contemplative and deliberative approach which enables leaders to experience leadership “in the moment” through simultaneous reflection and analysis. This is akin to the leadership skill of moving “between the balcony and the dance floor” which allows the leader to play the dual role of observer and participant simultaneously.
In this manner, leaders not only adopt new conceptual theories on leadership, but also initiate the transformation of deeply held habits, assumptions and beliefs on leadership which no longer serve them. CIP facilitation emphasizes the importance of the leader’s capacity to be fully present in the learning process, comprehend what is happening in real time, and choose how to react and intervene in a social setting amongst peers. CIP’s ultimate goal is to create adaptive leaders with flexibility, speed, open-mindedness and the willingness to experiment.
If the main tool of the CIP method is the question, then the tool of the Point-of-View (POV) approach would be leadership stories and powerful conversations. POV is not so much a learning methodology as it is an ingredient critical to the leadership learning process. POV goes beyond the sharing of opinions and perspectives amongst leadership peers. It is the utilisation of one’s own individual leadership pains and challenges, many of which remain yet unsolved, brought upon a diverse group of equally, if not more experienced, leaders/peers for analysis, re-framing, discussion, challenge and resolution. When learning takes place through conversations driven by productive conflict and questioning, leadership lessons are delivered at our individual level.
Case-in-Point’s ultimate goal is to create adaptive leaders with flexibility, speed, open-mindedness and the willingness to experiment.
What we have found is that when CIP facilitation meets POV sharing, it ignites some of the most powerful learnings in leadership development. It brings leadership best practices, real live cases and “reflection in action” together in one place. This hybrid approach not only provokes leaders to think about how and what we ought to learn in order to meet the most salient leadership challenges of our time, it also transports us back to our own specific contexts for action, reflection and cross-learning.
The first step in successfully designing such a learning experience is to move away from any entrenched beliefs around the “teaching” of leadership. The role of the consultant, teacher or facilitator is certainly not to teach but to be a learning architect, i.e. his/her main role and responsibility is to create the most conducive environment and space for powerful leadership conversations, thinking, learning and reflection to take place. This environment should be as close to the real world as possible, yet safe for experimentation and interpersonal conflict where necessary. Much like a laboratory. The skills of the facilitator therefore are central to the success of such learning.
One of the proven ways to bring together the CIP and POV methodologies, is to create four distinct but interconnected platforms for learning:
Exhibit 1. Linkage's interconnected platform for learning
It then entails orchestrating the main tenets of each platform in turn, or dynamically depending on the progress and outcomes. The leadership lessons are therefore co-created by facilitator and participants. Assuming that one learning session is 90 minutes long, the first 30 minutes may be dedicated to the presentation of new research or content, followed by another 60 minutes of an interplay between individual cases, curated conversations, and/or reflection in action as relates to the new research or content presented up front.
Exhibit 2. Format of a conversation at 20 Conversations Program
Most of the problems being dealt with are real world and adaptive, and the structured conversations bring to bear the most pertinent framing, questions and options (not necessarily solutions) related to the problems. Given the challenges of the 21st century, most leaders are being faced with adaptive problems, i.e. problems which are complex, multi-framed, and cross-boundary. They therefore have no obvious definition or solution (what Heifetz describes as Type III problems). Common sense therefore dictates that such adaptive problems calls for adaptive rather than linear approaches to help solve them.
As leaders and organizations gear themselves up for Industry 4.0, the way we understand and address leadership development must be reshaped against real world challenges and embrace methodologies which are not only instructive but adaptive.
Click here to find out more about Linkage Asia and its 20 Conversations Program.
About The Authors
Colin Pitt is Managing Partner of Linkage Australia and New Zealand. An experienced strategist, a thought-provoking facilitator, and a seasoned executive coach for leaders and teams, he specializes in leading C-suite and senior managers through leadership strategy and development, change and transition, executive team effectiveness, human resources practice, and process innovation to improve business performance.
With Linkage, Colin's strategic, but pragmatic, approach to leadership reinvention has supported leading global companies, including Australian Hearing, Aviva Group, Brady Corporation, Oz Mineral, and Samsung, to name a few.
Samuel Lam is President and Managing Partner for Linkage Asia. He is one of the foremost authorities on leadership development in Asia. He serves as executive coach and adviser to a number of notable CEOs and senior government officials in Singapore, Malaysia and rest of Asia.
His expertise is in the area of top team effectiveness, executive assessment and performance improvement of senior executives. Sam was co-editor of the Linkage Best Practices in Leadership Development Handbook with David Giber and Marshall Goldsmith, published by John Wiley.