It was in 1957, addressing the Australian Institute of Management, that Field Marshall Sir William Slim, then Governor General of Australia, remarked, “Leadership is of the spirit…its practice is an art. Management is of the mind… its practice is a science.
“Managers are necessary. Leaders are essential.”
Discussing leadership, Major General Julian Thompson – a British commander in the Falklands War of 1982 – once said, “For fixed things, you need management. For variables - people - you need leadership.”
The well-known business coach, Hugo Heij, takes a similar perspective. He says, “Although it’s in general usage, the term, ‘people management’ is meaningless. You manage things but you lead people.”
Any would-be successful leader’s skillset must include the ability to initiate, institute, inspire and successfully lead change.
A devotee of John Kotter’s work on leading change, Heij points out that change specialists are always ready to apply change models in organisations – and then wonder why they don’t work. Heij says, “That’s because, to achieve success, they have to adapt these models to the particular circumstances and then ensure that they get the attention of everyone in the organisation.
“Introducing and leading change often fails because people don’t know why the change is necessary. Leaders might know why these changes are needed but others in the organisation may not.
“So, it’s important for leaders to communicate their vision – and to do so effectively. Leaders can make the mistake of assuming that other people understand their vision – but they must always continue to communicate that vision.
“When it comes to leading change, it’s too easy to highlight the things that aren’t progressing well - or progressing quickly,” he adds.
“While concentrating on these things, leaders can forget to celebrate what goes right. They should always emphasise the positive.”
All of this illustrates that leadership can be hard to define and to do. Moreover, leadership means different things to different people.
To be successful, all leaders – whatever their leadership style, type and so on - must choose the right action at the right time and “keep a steady eye on the ball”. They must be courageous, self-aware – and ensure the consistent support of their team of followers.
“Furthermore” Heij says, “true leaders ensure they continue to develop their leadership skills throughout their careers, through learning and development materials and activities.”
Conventional wisdom says that the more effectively you lead people, the better they perform – and the more successful they, you and your organisation become.
This should argue for developing and maintaining leadership skills being a key personal and organisational learning and development activity. Yet, not all organisations are receptive to prioritising developing this ‘softer’ side of people-orientated practices.
However, the consequences of not doing so have been illustrated, over the years, by numerous studies that conclude that - alongside the high cost involved in replacing workers who leave because they’re unhappy for whatever reason – the leadership skill of appreciating and valuing employees not only saves money (by reducing the costs of recruitment, selection and induction) but it also makes money because it motivates these workers to perform to the best of their ability.
Soft Skills, Hard Cash
“Experience shows that investing in soft skills development brings substantial benefits to any organisation’s bottom line,” agrees Heij. “Developing these soft skills are important because, when the right people do the right things, they sustain the organisation’s bottom line. It’s the soft skills that generate the hard cash.
“If you want to grow a business, you’re dependent on people,” Heij adds. “We’ve moved from the ‘industrial worker’ to the ‘knowledge worker’ stage in our economic development. These days, business success isn’t about who owns the biggest machines but, rather, about who has the best people.
“So, if you develop people’s skills, your business success won’t just depend on you. Rather, it’ll rest with all the workers in your organisation.”
This involves creating the conditions for executives leading the people for whom they’re responsible, not “managing” them.
The art of leadership has been studied over many centuries and from various perspectives – particularly that of the military. Britain’s Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst promotes the concept of “Serve to Lead”. Maybe L&D professionals can adapt this approach and introduce a corporate culture of “Serve to Learn” as well “Serve to Lead”. This raises the issue of how to lead adults to learn.
Richard Lowe, director of Hewlett Rand, the L&D consultancy, comments, “My drama teacher at school never lectured. For drama, we’d sit in a circle, while our teacher asked us questions - facilitating our learning, empowering us to talk freely about a play, the plot, and characterisation.
“My drama classes were highly interactive and enjoyable, actively applying knowledge and skills through acting, singing and group discussions. It was experiential, immersive and facilitative - and these techniques truly engaged me as a young adult learner.
“As a training and digital learning consultant now, I realise that my drama teacher’s instruction style and the learning strategies were more to do with andragogy than pedagogy,” adds Lowe.
Andragogy is ‘the art and science of helping adults learn’. Pedagogy is ‘the art and science of educating children’.
While pedagogy tends to be delivered via teacher-led instruction to meet a defined curriculum, andragogy is more learner-focused. It’s an approach advocated by, among others, Plato, Socrates, and Confucius.
Malcolm S. Knowles, well-known for his research into andragogy, believed that adult learners:
- Need to know why something is important – so they must know the reason for learning something.
- Must have some experience – since experience provides the basis for learning activities.
- Like to be self-directed – that is, they want to be responsible for their decisions on education; and involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
- Need to feel the learning is relevant and will benefit them.
- Prefer to solve problems – so adult learning is problem-centred rather than content-oriented.
- Must be ready and motivated – that is, adults respond better to internal rather than external motivators.
This is also sound advice for would-be successful leaders.
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