Years ago, when I first set my sights on a boardroom role, I realised that to earn and hold a place at the top level, I would need to be able to evaluate my own leadership style honestly and energetically.
I took a look at my career and thought hard for the first time about how my values aligned with my goals.
I have always thought that self-evaluation is a hallmark of the authentic leader, one who’s comfortable with their own strengths and weaknesses; and I’ve often observed that, if you’re not being true to yourself, people can sense it. That incongruence can be your downfall when there’s a lot riding on your leadership.
Why L&D needs authentic leaders is a topic I’ve discussed before in my blogs. The ability to reflect on and evaluate their own work not only makes great leadership in practice, but is also crucial to the ‘always be learning’ mindset shared by the most forward-thinking, driven leaders.
If L&D can nurture self-awareness as a core leadership value, we can develop leaders who stay true to their values, using them to make decisions and delivering in alignment with organisational strategy.
Keeping it real
I’ve found that keeping it as real as possible, using experiential learning, is the ‘x factor’ for building self-awareness in leadership.
Although most of us have the capacity to understand things in theory, it’s only when we are in a real-life situation do we know how well we have taken on the learning.
Putting leaders face-to-face with their decisions and leadership styles shows them the impact of their behaviours. They can experiment with different approaches, without the consequences of making a mistake. For those at the top of the ladder, it can feel as though a lot is riding on their decisions; so taking away the risk is one great way to get leaders learning.
Quite often, if a leader isn’t behaving authentically, their people won’t feel able to react authentically, and this leads to the true impact of their leadership style becoming obscured or distorted. When leaders can’t recognise the red flags within their leadership styles, they will remain unaware of the impact they are having on others.
Using actors is one way to solve this problem. The actor, in an experiential learning scenario, can respond in ways that a team member might want to, but feel unable to.
Effectual stand-ins can be someone with no stake in the situation, an outsider—and, as in the case of one very effective training method that we use here at Bray Leino Learning, the actor doesn’t even have to be a person.
The power of horses
In our Leadership with Horses programme, introducing horses into the scenario helps demonstrate to leaders whether they are leading with congruence, authority, and authenticity.
While horses probably won’t appear in your workplace, they do a wonderful job of replicating the emotional responses leaders encounter when managing teams.
And although it’s sometimes easy to miss a signal from another person, it’s very hard to ignore the incredibly dynamic and powerful visual feedback from a horse.
Participants come face-to-face with the impact of their leadership style, clearly illustrated in the horse’s responses. I was lucky enough to get this feedback myself when I participated—and it was an eye-opening experience.
Reluctant to approach the horse at first, I became even more flustered when I failed to get my horse to follow instructions. My rising panic at the horse’s refusal to co-operate opened my eyes to my approach: I was expecting authority to do the trick, but actually what I needed was calm, confidence, trust and self-belief.
I couldn’t lie to the horse. I needed to be aware of the weaknesses in my approach, and to adjust for them accordingly.
Keeping leadership learning real was the key, for me, to exploring and improving my leadership skills in an environment where I could feel free to be vulnerable and make mistakes.
And, like me, when your leaders take that learning back to the workplace, they are going to be that much more objective, flexible and self-aware.
Leadership with Horses is currently taking bookings for a new season of workshops, and you can find out more about it by clicking below:
Or, if you’d like to hear more about my experience with the programme and how it impacted me, or if you have any questions, I’d be happy to chat—just drop me a line or Tweet me at the link below.
Stephanie Morgan FLPI, Director of Learning Solutions, Bray Leino Learning
Sharing ideas and observations to help improve performance.
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