Building Sustainable Legacies


How to become a leader?

I have always been fascinated how leaders are “brought forth” by circumstance. Something out of the ordinary occurs – an accident, a coincidence, a conflict, an opportunity – and you see people step up and start doing what needs to be done. Such leaders who hold no formal power or authority express what I believe true leadership is about: the courage to fully engage with all we have – our acquired and dormant skills, competencies, fears and uncertainties – if and when the situation requires it. It may well be that such leadership makes the headlines once in a lifetime only, but I have noticed that there are countless opportunities every day before, during and after work that invite us to practice this kind of leadership that I call “personal responsibility”. This makes all of us potential leaders.

Imagine if each of us would dare to engage fully if and when the situation requires it! Daring to make a mistake, to shake things up and maybe to step on some toes; not to show off or to manipulate, but simply because you know what is required to happen and, since you are there, it is up to you to step up. And this is where it gets interesting: how do you know what to do, how to be and whether to engage in a situation or not?

Is it indeed possible to learn such kind of a enlightened courage? I believe, you can! You can learn to be connected to your inner quiet voice, you can learn to sense what is right and what feels wrong, you can learn to differentiate between your own subconscious autopiloted fear mechanisms and your true values-based intuition, you can learn to find that voice and speak up. Such learning resembles more of a journey than a 3-day executive course. It requires practice and reflection.

It is possible to create powerful and safe learning environments to develop not only your courage to step up but to develop your full potential so that you can engage with a maximum of resources that you have. And if we as business schools were doing what is required of us right now, this is – in my humble view – what we should be doing: developing globally responsible leaders equiped to deal with the emerging societal, economic and environmental challenges so that all of us can live well and within the limits of out planet.

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Safe and powerful learning environments

The basic requirement for developing these leaders is a framework that addresses the whole person and that creates the needed openness and support for them. As such, education must provide the fertile grounds that allows for profound personal and professional development. Students and participants, irrespective of their age, will need a serious amount of personal courage to confront their fears, to let go of the views they hold on the world and on themselves and to drop the mask of a so-called educated perspective. Daring to let go of the roles we all hold requires a safe space. Developing and exploring both an inner attitude that is connected to our inner self and an outer attitude that reflects a truly human view of compassion requires a learning environment in which making mistakes is considered progress rather than failure.

Developing a safe and powerful learning environment requires a shift from knowledge teaching to sharing the journey of learning. It forms the entry ticket for transformational learning and involves the ability of the facilitating teacher to hold a safe space within which the greatest potential can emerge. Creating this kind of safe environment requires the facilitator to master the following competencies:

  • Relate to each student with personal authenticity, not pretending to have competencies or knowledge that one lacks. This learning-oriented attitude on the part of a professor can set the tone that it is acceptable not to take the risks that learning entails.
  • Be comfortable with an appropriate degree of self-disclosure, thus paving the way for disclosure on the part of students to more fully discuss the challenges they are facing and the feedback they receive.
  • Make the participants’ needs a priority and demonstrate acceptance of the students’ current abilities both academically and in terms of their leadership development.
  • Live a nonjudgmental attitude as a needed form of support. Be non-prescriptive (as a professor) in class discussions.  Good facilitators do not tell participants exactly what to do, but rather ask (both directly and indirectly) that participants take responsibility for their own development in many ways.
  • Provide a process that places participants in the position of deciding what the information means to them and how to best integrate that into their learning and development. While this process can benefit from coaching and mentoring, it should not be one that gives students all the answers.[1]

 


[1]            King, S. & Santana, L. (2010). “Feedback Intensive Programs” in Van Velsor, E., McCauley, C., & Ruderman, M. (Eds.) Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development, 3rd Edition.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.