Closing the leadership gap

Closing the leadership gap

According to research conducted by Six Degrees Executive, Australian leaders aren’t keeping up with the changing demands of the professional arena and the expectations of the people they lead. We need to ask – why? Obviously, it’s not a matter of intent for leaders to fall short, so we need to look at how leaders are being educated and developed, and the way they are hired and promoted to manage this change.

When experience and technical aptitude doesn’t cut it anymore

Technical expertise and industry experience are no longer enough to convince people of a leader’s aptitude to lead. It’s a leader's job to emotionally engage people; knowing how to emotionally connect to their driving motivations, and how to embody and express these. These qualities are expected but are rarely taught and therefore, rarely present in a charismatic form.

Towards authentic leadership

Leaders of today are expected to be open, transparent and authentic. Despite this, we fall back on traditional leadership development. Within highly competitive arenas, the path to the top is often riddled with impersonal critique and a passive form of professional development that prioritises knowledge over capability in the arena of emotional agility.

Leaders need to show up, not just in body, but as a human being that people can connect with, being visibly open for people to invest in. The Six Degrees Executive research suggests this connection is a prerequisite to garnering investment from people to get onboard with the desired direction. But being open isn't easy - it means we can be seen, if we can be seen we can be touched, if we can be touched we can be hurt. This inherent vulnerability has a genuine risk-reward tension that should be thoughtfully negotiated. Openness is increasingly expected in leadership and all too often not developed.

"People need to be trained with live leadership ammunition, not slide decks or role plays."

The evolution of professional development and training

Current training and development are often provided in a way that is far removed from the result it seeks to achieve, failing to take the form of a compelling embodiment of the valuable work it is meant to be conveying. People development all too often fits the cliché of being a cringe-worthy day that is endured by participants and perceived as taking them away from their ‘real work’.

The dynamic capabilities required of our leaders today need to be reflected in the learning interventions they receive, building genuine capacity and practical skill sets for the workplace of today and tomorrow rather than pure information share or mere technical expertise.

People need to be trained with live leadership ammunition, not slide decks or role plays. We don’t train people to fly planes using a slide deck or purely through simulations. The real-life situation requires a level of emotional fitness and stamina to be confident enough to handle the intensity of the moment. 

Becoming an inspiring leader of people is courageous work and can have strong commercial benefits. Too often leaders talk with great intellect about their 'why’, but few are capable of emotionally moving their people by expressing with an emotional pulse why it matters.

The real work begins when leaders take the daunting challenge of peeling back the layers and armour that has helped get them to the top in the first place, which alone won’t keep them there tomorrow. Before we reveal ourselves in leadership to our people, we need to first deeply understand ourselves, and this can be vulnerable work in itself. This is a tricky bridge to cross, from certainty to vulnerability and back to confidence in a new way of showing up in our leadership. We know it is of vital importance to become an authentic leader, therefore it’s time to evolve the training environments to shift the dial on capability.   

The development of professionals needs to delve deeper into the emotional terrain of human interactions and mastering the art of exceptional communication. People are about so much more than their job title or position description. The age-old corporate norm of ‘leave the emotion at the door’ is too one dimensional and not capable of producing the emotionally alive leader's people are asking for. Once leaders look beyond trying to remove emotion from the workplace, they can instead step into the fire to embrace and harness the benefits emotional intelligence offers and evolve their skills to fit today's workplace demands.

Tom Harkin is a Leadership Development Expert, spending the last 15 years developing people through the facilitation of effective group workshops. He has delivered a direct impact on over 100,000 people from high-level corporate executives, professional athletes, celebrities, and teenagers.

For more information, visit Tom's website - http://www.tomharkin.com.au/