Take Away Line
Rattling through the bush on a long journey can be a great way to reflect, discuss and formulate. On one journey in the Madagascan Highlands, we talked about how to choose the right leadership development programme, developing a simple typology of four types aimed at helping those new to these ideas a way of thinking about how to address the needs in their organisations to help leaders move up a gear. Oh, and Tintin helped provide colour and inspiration.
Tintin and discovering a new culture
Early morning start and I climb aboard the double cab pickup that’s come to collect me from the hotel where I’m staying. I greet my client, one of her senior medical staff members, the translator and the driver. We’re in central Antananarivo, the charming capital of Madagascar, Tana for short. The vehicle snakes round the narrow and already crowded streets, jostling with more Renault 4s and Citroen 2CVs than I’ve seen in decades. In fact, the urban feel is more that of a Tintin idea of Africa than the image I normally carry of a modern African city. ‘There are so many ancient tombs in every neighbourhood that the government can’t easily alter the street pattern. Hence the rather intimate feel of the streets – and the frustration of driving around them,’ my host informs me. ‘Hmm, ancient family tombs on every street corner’, I muse to myself, trying again to think of a Tintin story that would fit the scene before me.
I’m quite used to being in Africa and when I arrived at Tana airport and smelt the night smells, saw the bougainvillea, the poinsettias, as tall as a bungalow and the banana trees on almost every street, I knew I was back ‘home’, home to the mother ship, the land of red soil and smiles everywhere. Yes, this was a Southern African winter’s evening. Good to be back.
But I was quite wrong to read off from the physical smells and immediate sights that I was in a familiar place. I was soon to learn that culturally it was quite different, utterly charming, but quite different, and the cultural assumptions I brought with my nocturnal smile of recognition, would not work here. So, by the time I was picked up in the car early on that Thursday morning to visit rural health clinics to see how the work on the ground is carried out, I had spent three days of interviews with staff having to listen even harder, interpreting not just the answers to my questions (the ‘data’) but at the same time attempting to understand totally new cultural cues from the senior staff in this large international NGO whose internal or back office support functions were not quite delivering the goods the rapidly growing organisation needed.
A step Change in Culture, not just better Back-Office Support
One of the broader conclusions of my work – an, pretty much outwith the actual brief which was to look at back office support – was in the area of leadership. A culture of leadership, a culture of really taking responsibility, of taking initiative and of being proactive not just in terms of the narrow job role, even of senior staff, but of broader organisational challenges, simply wasn’t embedded in the normal way of doing business. Don’t get me wrong: this is a highly successful organisation, well established and doing great work. But to be even bigger, for which there was plenty of potential, it had to start to be different, to feel different, for managers to feel a sense of shared responsibility for taking things forward and for cultivating their own successors. Culturally the organisation needed to take a big bold step forward in a less tangible, less technical sphere.
So, while the ostensible purpose of the long journey in the double cab pickup was to witness the work on the ground in rural and urban communities outside the capital, there was also a subtext to our trip. The client and I began lightly to discuss this question of leadership and how it might be addressed. The rest of this blog looks at what we came up with to help frame the choice of leadership input that the client was realising her senior team and beyond needed badly.
It was clear that a shift in leadership skills was a development need across the organisation. What was less clear was exactly what the need was and exactly now it could be filled.
The client and I are still discussing the question of the need and the solution will follow the need once we’re clear about it. But to help her think about how needs could be met, I outlined a way of framing potential solutions, as a way of her doing her research into different providers.
We first made a distinction between leader development and leadership development. A number of my client’s senior team had been on leader development programmes. Reportedly they had been quite good and impactful on the individuals concerned. But she was not seeing any outcome in terms of their behaviour, nor on how their respective teams were performing. By contrast, leadership development tries to develop the leaders within a single organisation believing that leadership is as much social as individual and that organisational transformation takes place when the leadership create the changes needed together. So, leadership development is usually in-house, often incorporating elements of facilitated change management. Nine Conversations in Leadership™, for which I’m an accredited facilitator is one such programme. Public or open programmes can be very effective in helping individual leaders develop personally but they don’t usually help organisations wanting to shift their culture and enhance leadership skills and performance, which is more amenable in an in-house programme.
Bespoke and Branded Programmes
There are advantages and disadvantages of tailor-made or bespoke programmes and branded products. Branded products, such as Nine Conversations in Leadership just mentioned or the Heart of Leadership™ offer exceptionally well crafted materials and the research that produced them is done well and they tend to be well tested and validated. But in the eyes of some they can be a little inflexible for the particular needs different sectors or industries. Good branded tools allow the facilitator to do more than merely deliver other people’s material but also ensure that the examples and images are articulated to the culture of the sector in question. Examples and quotations too much from corporate life in the United States, for example, would act as a block to the leaders of NGOs.
By contrast, bespoke products can really work to address the particular development needs of a particular audience. But there is a danger of consultants recycling slightly tired material as they wouldn’t necessarily have the time or the resources to work form the latest research if they were assembling a one-off programme. I hope that the programme colleagues and I have been delivering for a large international development NGO in Africa avoids these dangers, but it is something we are aware of and have to work with: budgets are budgets and provide real limits to preparation time.
I’m a consultant, so let’s do a two-by-two Matrix!
In-house versus public programmes and branded versus bespoke solutions create a nice matrix of four broad options, which can be helpful for the potential purchaser of leadership development to consider.
Each of these cells represents a leadership development solution type. Clearly there is much variation within each type, but these types offer a broad map of the range of offerings.
Each of course has its own pros and cons. For example, these are some of the advantages and disadvantages of the In-House Bespoke Type:
Get in touch and I can let give you more information about some of the pros and cons of the other Types.
Touching Back into Tana with Tintin
The local beer in Madagascar is Three Horses and by the time we arrived back to town eight hours or so after our early morning start, I was looking forward to putting Six horses past my throat. But the journey had been fun, I had learnt a lot about the infrastructure and network strength of the organisation I was working with and together we had begun to frame a way of thinking about how to meet their leadership and change management needs. [Yes, you’re right; we think an in-house programme is the way to go. But bespoke or branded is the question at present.]
All in all, not a bad day. Tintin would be proud of us. In fact, as the sun set, I was sure I saw him in a 2CV as it sped round a corner, chased by a small white dog, both in hot pursuit of a pickup with a couple of coffins in the back.
- How have you chosen leadership programmes for yourself or your organisation?
- What other selection criteria would you consider in your selection process?