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For Leadership, Learning & Talent Executives

Part 3: Realization – How to Ensure Your Programs Change Leadership Behavior

So, last week I argued that the key to ensuring that your leadership programs improve organizational performance is to ensure they’re designed and delivered to produce one thing, sticky changes in leadership behavior. I know this is a lot to ask of leadership programs, and I know from firsthand experience that the environments within which they are delivered play a big role. But given how important leadership is to the world and the fact that we spend billions of dollars every year on leadership programs that are failing to produce behavior change, I think it’s time that we expect more. All of our programs and providers in the field should, and I believe can, have a greater impact. But this is exactly why I’ve written and filmed this multipart series, to provide a possible path forward for leadership training buyers and providers alike that can be leveraged to improve the impact of their programs.

And I’m offering my real work process as one possible path forward. It’s an agnostic transformative action learning methodology that can be leveraged to deliver lasting changes in almost any leadership behavior and that I’ve personally used to develop tens of thousands of leaders globally. So, in this video, I’ll provide you an overview of step three, facilitate realization. But in case you missed the last two videos, I’ll provide a quick overview of steps one and two. Okay, step one, work on real world problems. So, instead of hoping your leaders will apply what they learn at your programs to their problems, guarantee it by having them bring in high stakes problems that A, they, their managers and the business care about, B, that are just beyond the reach of their current leadership capabilities to solve, and C, that can only be solved by bringing about changes in their leadership behavior.

Step two, get and give your leaders access to how they actually behave in real life. And why is this important? Because to help your leaders change their behavior, we have to give them access to how they actually behave in real life. The problem is that the conventional methods that organizations normally use, personality assessments, 360s, self-reporting, direct observation, just to name a few, either don’t give you access to how leaders actually behave or are very impractical to implement. And this is where the personal case study tool invented by Harvard’s Chris Argyris is really invaluable because it gives you a full proof way to access how leaders actually behave that’s very easy to implement.

Okay, so without further ado, let’s dive into realization. And this is where your leaders are going to recognize where their gaps and opportunities are and the costs of those gaps and the upsides of those opportunities. And this step is really important because without the deep internal commitment generated by such realizations, your leaders won’t take on the hard work of changing their own behavior. And as leadership development professionals, I believe that we need to take a lot more responsibility for creating these realizations very early during our programs, because the research demonstrates that most leaders aren’t sufficiently self-aware to benefit from being developed. In fact, some research demonstrates that while 95% of leaders think they’re self-aware, only 10% to 15% actually are. And this is because the automatic nature of a lot of leadership behavior simply produces natural blind spots for our leaders.

As Brutus said to Cassius in Shakespeare, Caesar, “The eye sees not itself.” Or as they say down south in America, “It’s hard to see the label from inside the jar.” Okay, so how do we actually help our leaders become self-aware of both their gaps and opportunities? So, let me share with you just a few of the mechanisms that I’ve personally used with tens of thousands of leaders globally that I hope you can use too. Number one, empowerment. And what I mean by that is equip your leaders with intuitive tools and show them how to use them to analyze their own behavior. And when done properly, these self-assessments produce helpful but disturbing insights for your leaders. More often than not, they come to realize that they inadvertently behave in ways that are both ineffective and inconsistent with their own values.

And this is why the next mechanism, compassion, is so important. And compassion is really critical, because when your leaders have these disturbing insights, it can be very hard on them and they can tend to blame themselves. So, it’s really important to help them understand why they behave in ways that are both ineffective and inconsistent with their own values. And this is where the research that Harvard’s Chris Argyris initially did in the 1970s and my colleagues and I have advanced for nearly the last three decades I think can be really helpful because it teaches us that a subconscious overprotective program has been installed in all of us and it gets activated even under conditions of mild threat. And it causes us to inadvertently behave in ways that are both ineffective and inconsistent with our own values.

And when leaders learn that this subconscious overprotective program exists in them and is the reason why they’re struggling to lead and behave up to their full potential, they could be a lot kinder to themselves. And then, building on compassion is aspiration. And this is where we need to take responsibility for painting a crystal clear picture of what good leadership looks like in their context so that your leaders have a compelling aspiration to shoot for and something that they’re excited to pursue. And it’s these exciting and profound realizations that creates the foundation for what comes next, enabling your leaders to master new behaviors. And that’s exactly what we’ll get into next week. So, I hope you found this valuable, and I’ll see you there.

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