Updated: Nov 24
This is not just a leaders gig, we're all responsible for doing our own work
As the team I and my colleague had been working with for two days filed out of the room, about 20 of them, we couldn’t quite meet each other’s eyes. It was a low moment.
What hung heavy in the room was the knowledge that the work we'd all done together was a big waste of time. Waste of their time, our time and the company’s budget and resources as well as the cost of the team out of the business for two days.
And no-one would get held to account on this – who would blow the whistle? Not the team in case they look like they’re not ‘on-board’ or trying hard enough. Not the sponsor of the work as they’d have to show their workings in why they’d hired us. And not us, we’ve got to put food on the table, why would we turn round and say none of this has worked?
I couldn’t get away from there fast enough.
So many things have changed. I’m proud of the industry we’re in. I’m proud of the way many businesses now understand how important their people are. That being strong in supporting true personal development builds thriving healthy profitable workplaces. Way back when I was a stockbroker I needed this support and recognition so badly, we all did.
Things are definitely much better for everyone in many organisations. Great L&D, committed HR and thousands upon thousands of books on leadership and running thriving organisations that didn’t exist 20 years ago.
But along the way something has gone wrong – and kind of no-one is to blame.
People in companies must endure development programmes they didn’t truly consent to participating in, that actually are not right for everyone in the room. Often they’re bought because the CEO or HR are keen on the idea, it works for them, and their idea of what’s useful. CEOs and HR are well intentioned, they're trying to make things better.
Leadership development companies, including us, got good at packaging people development, to sanitise it and appear to remove much of the messiness that comes with emotions. We all want to give people the best chance of accessing this work and we've thought this way was a good idea.
The desire to ensure ROI, prove the purchase decision, means development gets boxed up, guaranteed, assigned colours, letters or whatever else looks like a deliverable.
When it’s done ‘badly’, it has pushed what’s really going on and being felt underground only for it to emerge as stress sick leave, illness, anger, dysfunctionality, ruthlessness, boredom, box ticking, low creativity and disaffection.
People make changes because they want to; they rarely make changes because you tell them they have to – and certainly not by giving them a 5 point model of leadership or behaviour they have to adopt.
We also noticed how our presence and delivery can create resistance; we don’t know the interior life of the people we’re working with, or what they find interesting or inspiring.
The reality is we're messy as a species and really never more than when we're in a group of people. You can be the nicest leader in the world and trigger someone else in the room into difficult behaviour. And who is responsible for what?
Everyone is responsible for doing their own work, for understanding their impact with others and investing in doing that better. It's not just a leaders gig. Imagine what it's like when everyone is committed to that - and also imagine everyone gets to work out what their preferred way to do that is.
It's from this place we work - making the changes altogether, partnering and creating space for skilled discussions and work together. Organisations are stronger when this happens. They have to be able to continue the work after we have left the building. With each session we are moving our chairs closer and closer to the door so when we leave clients no longer need us in the same way.
We're interested in supporting sustainable, self-developmental workforces and our work is designed to support that whether it's 1:1 coaching or transforming your meeting culture.
That's what we do - contact firstname.lastname@example.org to start a conversation.