News and Comment

If you’re a leader it’s important to ‘show your workings’

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Nowadays, with value for money pressures prevailing, senior managers have an additional responsibility to develop their people. A powerful way of doing this is to take on the mantle of development ourselves – senior managers can help others learn their craft by showing their own workings out.

As a child I was good at mental arithmetic and I continued to love studying maths. However I remember being frustrated at being marked down for not showing how I’d arrived at what I thought was an obvious answer. By O-levels, I found that my intuition was limited – I began to make mistakes and I couldn’t trace back to see what I had done wrong and to identify where I needed a different approach. My previous confidence waned and I had to relearn the discipline of showing my workings out before mastering more complex equations.

As with arithmetic, so with leadership development, it seems! ‘Showing your workings’ can be a great way of helping others to learn how to lead. I have seen countless examples of this happening almost unconsciously and I believe that with support – which does necessitate some initial investment – many senior people can develop their staff effectively whilst avoiding having to justify high development expenditure. Here are some techniques I would recommend:

  • Adopt coaching techniques as part of your conversations with staff e.g. the GROW model (Goal, Reality, Options, Will) to help them develop their own solutions.
  • Invite shadowing but with built in review time e.g. what did I say in that meeting that most surprised you? What do you think I really wanted to happen?
  • Encourage enquiry e.g. You have 5 mins to explore with me my current take on this topic…
  • Introduce review breaks in meetings e.g. Shall we just take 5 mins to review how effective we are being in resolving this issue – what could we do differently?

Somewhat counter-intuitively, many otherwise excellent managers and leaders are reluctant to take on this sort of a development role. Some find it hard to deconstruct and explain what they do so instinctively – a bit like my younger self doing arithmetic. Some are surprisingly modest and are reluctant to present themselves as exemplars. Most have not had the opportunity or support to think through how to do this well and what their own authentic leadership developer role might be like.

This is where the initial support comes in. I firmly believe that all senior people benefit and, indeed deserve, a coach. For groups of managers, a combination of ‘develop the developer days’ supported by action learning groups or coaching will be highly effective way of supporting and reviewing a more sustainable organisation wide approach to LMD.