Tim Goodenough and I (Mike Cooper) have been reading a brilliant book called the “Immunity Code” by Joel Greene. In the book Greene highlights a problem that has been plaguing the nutrition field in the last few decades: The core arguments, axioms and principles have degenerated into what he calls “baby talk.” Examples of this are “butter is good”, “carbs are bad” and “fiber is good”. This overly simplified view leads to a credibility problem as every few years new research comes out and the principles and axioms gets switched around and reversed. Many people now question if anyone really knows anything at all? The nutrition field is in a state of disarray. He calls on nutritionists to have more mature conversations. To move beyond the simple, good/ bad; right/wrong arguments and to ask more probing questions such as

WHAT?    WHEN?    HOW?

When you go deeper you realize that overly simplified statements like “carbs are bad” are ridiculous. What carbs? When are you eating them? How much are you eating? With what are you eating them? Are these Carbs bad in what way? What is your goal in eating them? 

When you start to ask more probing questions you inevitably move beyond “baby talk” and are forced to have much more analytical, useful conversations and therefore more accurate conclusions.

This got me thinking about my own field; “Leadership Development”. 

Have we as HR Professionals and Coaches fallen into the trap of “baby talk”?

I think we have. I am often asked to initiate a coaching or executive development program because a leader is seen to need certain skills. “Please can we take executive A and add some communication skills, some strategic thinking and whilst are at it can we help him or her to find some charisma, please?” The request is not in itself wrong. It’s as if we instinctively know when something is missing and know that if the individual could demonstrate more of it, it will boost their performance and be great for the company.

This leads to an oversimplification of the solution. We look at the traditional menu list of leadership characteristics and choose the ones we like or think the organization needs.  Again, this in itself is not good nor bad, one of the questions that is missing though is,” What is the Foundational Leadership Attributes that you will be building on when developing this leader?” 

There is an old saying I love; it goes, “You cannot fire a cannon from a canoe”. 

Lets ask the more mature questions. 

“What do you want to change?”

“When and where do you want to demonstrate this skill?”

“How will this impact the person and his team?”

“What is the leadership foundation that we are working from?” 

You cannot just add leadership skills if the person needs more fundamental work. 

Does the required changes fit with the persons sense of self, self-esteem, thinking style and behavioral patterns? Does this change conflict with their values, culture or beliefs?

When I am confronted by challenges like this, I like to think of that canoe. How do I upgrade that canoe to a large ship, so that when I fire the cannon, the shot goes where it needs to go and does not sink what was once a canoe?

Its time to transform Canoes into Ships

From 20 years of experience in coaching, training and Leadership Development, Tim and I have realized there is an optimal order to this foundational leadership development process. A recipe. A process with a sequence. We need to build a structure in the leader that is firm and strong so that when the skills of leadership are added, a multiplier effect happens. What is the sequence of development that will unlock that effect? How will I measure the current leadership structure of my leader? How will I know what to add to the structure, and when to add it? How will I know if the structure of my canoe is strong enough to become a large ship? How do I add this idea of sequential foundational development to existing leadership development programs I might be running? 

In the next month Coaching Unity will be releasing our new model: The Foundational Leadership Development Pyramid. It will show you the foundational “Being” Attributes needed to support whatever Leadership Skills you may be developing to create a Multiplier Effect and avoid the ‘Division Effect’ -where Leader’s go on Leadership Training and come back to the office causing more harm and division than before the training.

So, what attributes do you think are fundamental to an Ethical Leader’s Development? Where would you start? Please post your ideas. We look forward to engaging with you.