A recent history of leadership development in executive education

Adam Kingl, Executive Director of Learning Solutions, traces the path of transformative executive development at London Business School.

Adam Kingl, Executive Director of Learning Solutions, traces the path of transformative executive development at London Business School. What can we learn from how leadership development has been designed and delivered through the School’s Executive Education?

leadership images_lcsr_482x271 Self-awareness
Many staff and faculty point to the ground-breaking work by Professor John Hunt in using the 360° feedback tool (soliciting quantitative assessment and qualitative comments from one’s colleagues, producing a report that anonymously integrates and summarises that feedback) as a springboard for transformative executive development. While 360° feedback wasn’t necessarily a new tool 20 years ago, London Business School’s method of using the tool was innovative. We started to see what is now a standard structure of how a leadership week, centred on the theme of self-awareness, progresses.

Each day is typically a half day, with the faculty covering one of these themes: executive derailment, leadership and personality, giving and receiving feedback, completing a personal GAPS analysis of one’s strengths and weaknesses, and action planning for the immediate future around one’s personal impact. "e other half of each day is group and sometimes one-to-one coaching in order to allow for peer feedback, analysis and refection on the 360°, practicing giving and hearing feedback, and creating clear, refined, simple action plans, making commitments to one’s colleagues on those action plans.

This pedagogy dramatically altered the formerly common expectation that a business school course would be primarily top-down information provision, and what participants did with that information was a bit of a shot in the dark. Now, participants spent half of each day having to confront, discuss and reflect on their leadership impact, and hold themselves and their peers accountable for making choices that would improve how they ‘show up’ as leaders in their organisations.

This pedagogy was further refined and perfected by several faculty in the School’s Organisational Behaviour department, notably Professors Randall Peterson and Nigel Nicholson. We have witnessed the effectiveness of the leadership week grow ever more powerful, in particular on our open programmes: High Performance People Skills for Leaders and the Accelerated Development Programme (ADP); and on our custom programmes including: Nestlé Leadership Programme (running for 12 years), Royal Bank of Scotland, Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations, and Oman Oil, among many others.

Complementing the theme of self-awareness, Professors Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones published their influential book, Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?, in 2006, which advanced an almost universally applicable definition of what authentic leadership really means: “Be yourself, more, with skills.” This popular work incorporated Goffee and Jones’ research background in sociology with the more common discipline applied to leadership in business schools, that of social psychology.

Now, the leadership discussion included how leaders must be aware of and shape their organisational culture as another lever to enhance competitiveness and realise their strategic goals. The discussion also included liberating ideas, such as admitting that our best leaders are not perfect, but can and should admit to allowable weaknesses, and in so doing draw people to them through their visible honesty and authenticity. 

Professor Lynda Gratton explored fostering a culture that promotes strategic intent and sustainable success, and identifying and building ’hot spots’ within an organisation where innovation and engagement thrive. Culture and authenticity have become foundation stones on our flagship Senior Executive Programme, HR Strategy in Transforming Organisations and the Nestlé Leadership Programme.

Influence and persuasion
In the last six to ten years, the leadership discussion has only become even more practical. Dismissing the notion that leadership is some type of vague, soft discipline, London Business School has significantly enhanced teaching the hard, applicable skills that every leader must possess to gain the buy-in and aligned activities of their teams. 

During his chairing of the Organisational Behaviour department, Professor Madan Pillutla built on the skills research concerning negotiations and influence to make the case that many leadership acts are negotiating a desired, win-win outcome, be it internally or externally, and that influence is less an act of charisma and more the skilled application of evidence based, elective persuasion techniques.

New faculty joining the department under Professor Pillutla, in particular those who earned their PhDs from the strong research centre on power, influence and negotiation at Kellogg Business School, North-western University, created a critical mass of faculty (Professors Gillian Ku and Niro Sivanathan) that allowed LBS to scale its design and development of influence as a key leadership skill across its executive education programmes. We now see this theme in flagship courses including in open programmes: Essentials of Leadership and Negotiating and Influencing Skills for Senior Managers; and in customised/ corporate in at least half of all our leadership programmes.

Best self
There is an enthusiastic take-up in HR offices around the world today of the recent research findings in the area of positive psychology. The attractive message is that, rather than thinking of self-awareness as building on strengths and mitigating weaknesses, leaders need to reflect on when, how and why they are at their best, and create more of the personal and contextual circumstances to increase the days when they are so. This idea can be interpreted as a nuance of the themes of authenticity and self-awareness, and Professor Dan Cable has gone further by specifically saying that elective leadership is highly personal and is not about imitating the models of leadership around us (the popular 1970s-90s game of discussing and imitating celebrated CEOs such as Jack Welch and Lee Iacocca) but deeply understanding our own individual ideal model of leadership and acting on creating that every day. This theme has been applied to several of our most important executive education programmes in open: Essentials of Leadership and Accelerated Development Programme; and custom: A.T. Kearney and Orica, among others.

Perhaps the emerging theme of the last year has been that of discovery. London Business School began experimenting with this andragogy many years ago, but is becoming less of the exception and more of the norm. Discovery is featured on our open programmes, including Proteus and Leading Teams for Emerging Leaders; and custom including Danone (which won the EFMD Award for Excellence in Executive Education Practice in 2013), A.T. Kearney, the Global Business Consortium and Leading the Nestlé Way.

I purposely use the term ‘andragogy’ versus ‘pedagogy’ above in that the emerging practice of discovery assumes that learning happens not only from evidence-based research communicated and applied, but in the facilitation of participants finding the answers that are already within their individual or collective unconscious. Professor Jules Goddard, who is one of the pioneers of this method explains: ‘Where management education can help is in designing a forum in which...critical but dispersed knowledge is surfaced, shared appreciated and integrated to form plans, decisions and initiatives. The setting in which this best takes place is one that dismantles defensive mechanisms. As soon as managers ‘drop their guard’ and start to connect with one another emotionally - as humans not simply as functionaries - remarkable things start to happen. Ideas and insights coalesce and the recalcitrant problems facing the firm begin to become tractable. Managerial learning is not a process of the personal acquisition of theoretical knowledge so much as the adaptive application of collective wisdom.’

All the themes that London Business School Executive Education has developed over the past 20-plus years have a common thread - facilitating human beings to connect or reconnect with what resonates in themselves. Rather than leadership being defined as an external or abstract model where one size fits all, leadership is the complex and ultimately fulfilling challenge of discovering what is true and personal in one’s self, and developing the ability to express that authentic, persuasive and best self consistently, with the skills to take others with you.

Photo by George Couros.

Used under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

Comments (1)

Prof( Trainer) Gurbir S Khera 6 years and 16 days ago

Well-written & Quite insightful!