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How to develop leadership skills

Posted by Thaneshwar on अप्रील 17, 2009

Learning self-awareness is the first step in developing the leadership skills that promotion demands

Steve Farrar

PROFESSIONALS rarely get the opportunity to rise above the demands of their day job to plan future careers. For Barry Kingsland, the chance came last October when Cable & Wireless (C&W) asked him to join its new Ignite leadership programme.

As its 46-year-old director of network strategy and economics, he was regarded as having high potential. C&W did not intend only to send him to seminars and conferences to learn leadership skills. It had a more radical approach designed to help him gain self-awareness. “It got me thinking about my potential and aspirations and where I want my career to go,” he said.

He was challenged beyond his technical background to tackle important projects intended to test his leadership skills. It involved raising awareness of corporate social responsibility and devising ways to reduce energy consumption at C&W. He will soon reflect on what he learnt.

When the programme ends in November, he hopes to develop his career across a number of industries in a nonexecutive role, perhaps stepping out of telecommunications altogether.

Colm Coffey, C&W’s human-resources director, admitted there was a risk that such freethinking might lead high-flyers to believe their future lay elsewhere, yet it was vital to ensure that the best people stayed to help lead the company. “Organisations often do not understand what their top talent wants until the exit interview,” he said.

At Ernst & Young, Elizabeth Quansah, a tax consultant, joined the professional-services firm’s three-year accelerated leadership programme in 2005.

This has involved a 12-month secondment in mergers and acquisitions, broadening her experience in relationship and business development. She has also been able to interact with partners and senior leaders, who set projects to test her abilities.

“What more can you ask for when people at a higher level make sure experiences come along that are good for you,” she said. Quansah, 27, from Man-chester, earns £48,000 and is confident of becoming a partner sooner rather than later.

She and Kingsland’s positive experiences are not shared by most professionals. Only two out of five UK business leaders are satisfied with the leadership development offered by their employers, said a report published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) last week.

That deficit may help explain why only 8% of the 306 British business leaders and human-resources professionals surveyed in the CIPD’s Global Leadership Forecast 2008-2009 rated their own organisation’s leaders as excellent.

Vanessa Robinson, an adviser with the CIPD, said businesses could be missing a trick if they felt they had to recruit the leaders they needed from outside.

“Many big organisations invest heavily in leadership programmes because they recognise it’s important to try to grow your own,” she said.

Research by the CIPD found that UK organisations were better than their foreign rivals at bringing on high-potential leaders – 58% had processes to spot talent and 47% had programmes to accelerate its development. Furthermore, two thirds of participants were satisfied with such programmes.

Yet there were problems. UK organisations generally failed to measure the effects of leadership development and were poor at holding senior managers to account for this. As a result, many aspiring leaders look to outside organisations for the support they need, often paying for external coaching.

Ian Davy, managing director of Solaglas Windowcare, a glass, frame, door-repair and replacement specialist, sought help at the Business Coaching Foundation. He built Solaglas from scratch until it was sold in 2002 to French giant Saint-Gobain, which owns Jewson and British Gypsum. As Solaglas’s turnover rose, doubling to £27m in the past four years, he became increasingly concerned about being left behind.

“The business was growing so fast that I felt I had to run faster just to keep up,” he said.

His coach helped him to move from the day-to-day operational management to more concept management. He evaluated his strengths and weaknesses, was introduced to new ideas and challenged to take a more strategic approach to his business.

Davy, 39, from Lincolnshire, earns a six-figure salary and now sits on an influential committee that helps to guide Solaglas’s parent company. “I now feel on top of my game – I’m driving the business,” he said.

Tony Clarke-Holland, director of the Business Coaching Foundation, said that switching from day-to-day management to the more visionary role of the leader was often difficult. “The skills set they used, to get them to where they are, is not necessarily the skills set they need to lead the business,” he said.

Leadership coaching is not cheap. BCF charges £350 an hour plus Vat for a programme accredited by the Institute of Leadership and Management. The recommended six months will cost upwards of £2,800.

BCF also provides more traditional leadership training programmes but, with no follow-up to ensure lessons are put into practice, the impact can pale by comparison.

Business schools provide an alternative. At Henley Management College, more than half the public programmes are leadership orientated, while the MBA has a focus on personal leadership development that ultimately counts toward the final grade.

Chris Bones, Henley principal and former director at Cadbury Schweppes, said that while some leadership qualities, such as drive and integrity, were impossible to learn, others, such as judgment and the ability to influence, could be taught. “Really good leaders have the ability to look at a situation, boil it down quickly and then get the simple message across to enable others to react appropriately,” he said.

Mark Arthur, 45, senior manager at the Ghana International Bank, took Henley’s three-week advanced management course in 2006. He had been promoted to take responsibility for IT, human resources, credit management and to assist the chief operating officer to develop new business. “Changing roles from a specialist to a generalist meant that I needed new tools and to look at things differently,” he said.

The Henley course introduced ideas and best practice that he was able to use when leading the bank’s move to new premises in London last July, a task completed in a single weekend.

The most effective aspect of the course, supported by six months of personal coaching, was self-awareness. “I gained a knowledge of myself, my real strengths and weaknesses, which helped me complement my shortcomings to become an effective leader,” he said.

courtesy: Times online, June 8, 2008


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