Imperial College Business School discuss action learning and authentic leadership
Guy Gumbrell, Co-Director of Executive Education from Imperial College Business School, joined HRD Connect to discuss the authentic leader, driving organisational change and action learning for leadership development.
How is leadership developed through action learning, and how are these skills embodied and subsequently transferred to the workplace?
Action learning delivers incredibly rich value in leadership development in three ways. First there’s a social interaction: it brings together leaders, often from different parts of the same business, to enable them to get useful insights about the challenges and opportunities and ways of operating in different parts of a business. That is essential if they’re hopeful of pursuing strategic leadership positions themselves.
Secondly, it’s a terrific way of applying learning from more traditional learning modes, such as online or face to face learning. The whole principle of action learning is that the group works on a specific, business-related problem. That often means accessing the more theoretical learning that they might have discovered in a conventional training programme.
And the third – and most significant – opportunity is that each individual can develop his or her coaching leadership skills by the way they’re supporting and challenging their colleagues inside the group.
What makes an authentic leader for you?
I think the easy definition of an authentic leader concentrates on the first word, and ignores the second. So authentic leadership has often been described as being true to your own personality and one’s own values. And that’s important.
But I think the word leader is equally important. For me, leadership is essentially about playing a role that’s both in the interest of individual team members and also the organisation. And there are times when being authentic to yourself is at odds with fulfilling the demands of the leadership role in the team and the organisation.
A classic example of that would be of speaking your mind in the moment about what you really, truly feel as an individual. But that might not satisfy the needs of the team members – it’s not what they’re looking for from their leader.
So I could be very authentic as an individual, and publicly criticize my boss to team members, but my doing that might not be what they’re expecting to hear from me as a representative of the senior management team.
How important is being an authentic leader in driving organisational change?
If we put those two elements together, I think it’s absolutely critical. Part of the way of helping people feel comfortable and yet optimistic about change is to have an element of honesty and self-disclosure from the leader.
So for the leader to say, ‘I’m finding this difficult as well as exciting’ or ‘I’m not quite sure where we’ll be twelve months from now – but I’m pretty sure we’ll be in a good place’ represents authentic leadership. It’s being authentic in terms of disclosing and sharing those feelings of doubt or uncertainty, which is truthful and honest; employees are expecting to see honesty and transparency from their leaders, particularly in times of change.
The leader part of it focuses on providing the certainty, direction, information and resources to help people navigate that change successfully. So a combination of those two is absolutely essential for successful organisational change.
How can companies measure success on their coaching projects?
To put it bluntly, if you put rubbish in, you get rubbish out. If you’re not clear about what the success criteria are before you start the coaching project, you’re going to find it very difficult to sort that out retrospectively. So this comes down to having the proper success criteria in place at the start of the coaching contract, and I would say it needs to be framed in behavioural terms.
So the question should be: as a result of this coaching intervention, what behaviours would we hope to see? And where possible, forget the opinion of all relevant stakeholders. So in other words, that would be the participants themselves, the coaches themselves, the line managers, and maybe even customers. So what would we expect to see differently in this person as a result of the coaching contract?