The #1 Obstacle in Teaching Leadership

The mission of the IESE Business School, where I teach about 1,000 EMBA, MBA and Senior Management participants each year, is to “develop leaders who aspire to have a deep, lasting and positive impact on people, firms and society” and I have spent a lot of the last 13 years attempting to find a way to achieve this mission.

A leadership decision will always look wrong from somebody’s perspective.  Leadership decisions are always difficult because they play off between values.  We learn from Homer’s great hero Odysseus is that a leadership decision is always a decision between two bad outcomes.  If one path led to a good outcome, then the decision is an excel spreadsheet decision…  not a leadership decision.  Leadership will always be hard because you can never be right from all perspectives.

What stops someone developing as a leader?  What is the single greatest obstacle we face in developing Leaders?

Self-Delusion.

We are born aware of how we view others, but unaware of how others view us.

Some learn quickly to see how others see them.

Some never learn.

Some face an insurmountable challenge (psychologists call this a “boundary experience”) and realise that it is they themselves that must change.  It is they themselves that act in ways that make their goals unachievable.  It is only a major failure in their life that forces them to reflect and see that they are responsible for the behaviours that are causing failure.

Overcoming Self-Delusion

How do those institutions that develop leaders open human beings up to the nature of their self-delusion?  How do I as a teacher help someone realise that they don’t know everything?

I was reading “Return on Character”, a book by Fred Kiel this week – it is a 10 year study into the financial impact of having a leader who behaves with 4 “leadership character qualities”.  He worked with many CEOs.  He surveyed the CEOs, and he surveyed the direct reports of CEOs.

  • Great CEOs think they behave well 80% of the time, and their direct reports say 80%.
  • Poor CEOs think they behave well 80% of the time, and their direct reports say 50%.

Every one of his CEOs think they show these 4 categories of behaviour over 80% of the time…

  • Integrity – clear sense of right & wrong; tells the truth; seeks the truth
  • Responsibility – self control; fixes own mistakes
  • Forgiveness – cooperation; conflict resolution
  • Compassion – empathy; builds attachments; shows and receives affection

And, by the way, the answer was yes, leadership character matters to direct reports.  In a big way.

The Challenge of Self-Delusion

An individual is delusional about their qualities as a leader.  

This is the teaching challenge – students do not believe that they have poor behaviours around integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion. 

How do you get people to realise that they are not as good as they think they are?  (how to get them to actually listen to direct reports and to team mates feedback?)  Now… that is our teaching challenge.

One comment

  1. […] If you liked this post, you’ll also like Everything Changes, Everything is Connected and The number 1 Obstacle in Teaching Leadership. […]

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Centrifugal Performer

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