Leading On A Global Scale – Reflections Of The Past And Present
Learning Sets are based on Action Learning methodology. As the name suggests it means to learn by doing. By having to lead and manage real issues and implement change for better outcomes.
Learning Sets are not for everyone.
If you think that as a leader you:
- can do it all by yourself and like to be in complete control
- have pretty much everything covered because of your experience, intelligence and insight
- don’t need to be open about or share the challenges that confront you as a senior executive leading complex organisations
- don’t need professional and personal support and challenge as a leader
then Learning Sets are not for you.
However , if you:
- recognise that you don’t know everything
- possess humility and openness to learning about yourself and organisations and then act on the learnings
- have the ability to accept responsibility for change for the better
- are open to learning from others and their ideas and critiquing of your major problems and possibly your style
- have the courage and character for honest reflection and leading real change
- are looking for practical and pragmatic ideas, strategies and solutions so you can show a real return on investment
then Sets might very well be for you.
Sets are not for the faint hearted. You have to be prepared to be open and vulnerable and willing to learn from and with others.
What are some of the challenges that have remain through the years and have been brought to set meetings for discussion?
Set meetings are all about change. What issues confront CEOs and senior executives as leaders of change? How have they tried to handle those issues? What ideas do other Set members have? Do I have to adjust my leadership style and be more flexible to suit different circumstances?
The major issues that executives bring to the table are:
- the so called hard issues like restructuring, new directions, functional mergers and amalgamations, organisational performance and accountability, pandemics, workforce, governance and budget deficits
- then there are the so called “soft issues” like relationships with Boards, clients, staff, patients, Departments/Ministries. The issues of trust, conflict management, resilience, and the subtle and nuanced capability to influence, be diplomatic, be strong and focussed are critical.
- the ability to handle the complexity of issues and the politics that embrace all organisations and systems
Four things impress me about Set members:
- the ability to be sensitive and aware of the impact some decisions have on people.
- the focus of CEOs and other executives in balancing the demands of their role and the capacity to think of their people
- their resilience. It is seriously impressive. COVID has been a huge challenge, but they are still there giving of themselves, seeking answers, building relationships of trust with their Set colleagues
- their character strength to accept their leadership being critiqued by peers
At the end of the day Set members want to walk away from Set meetings with clarity and an implementable plan, demonstrating and validating their investment in membership. They also want to meet with peers in a confidential and safe environment with airtight Chatham House rules.
What are the new pressing issues leaders now bring to the table?
I think the major issues are related to COVID and its aftermath. It has meant organisations and their people have had to rise to challenge after challenge over 3-4 years. New issues become apparent as a result of what has been implemented. Sometimes there are unforeseen consequences on the organisation, relationships and people. Leadership has had to become more mature. More human. More resilient. More flexible. Maybe tougher in the sense of clarity of purpose. More aware in terms of how to bring people with them as leaders. It has forced leaders to see the core challenges and focus there not on the plethora of issues some of which have been smokescreens for certain agendas at play.
The opportunity which you see every time there is a crisis is that people pull together in multidisciplinary teams in the crisis but then risk rolling back into what was Business as Usual. That is where leadership comes in and then the question is do we have the leaders in terms of quality and quantity to resist reverting to past practices and politics.
Sets make a contribution because these issues are common grist for the mill of Set meetings.
It is an honour and a privilege as a facilitator to watch heroic leaders challenge themselves and each other. To listen to them continually think of the people they serve and the societal impact of what they do.
What are the most relevant skills that Executives need today to be impactful leaders?
- An acute political antennae. A sense of vision and purpose. An ability to continually scan the organisation and take its pulse. A capacity to prioritise the urgent and important and those things that will bite you on the proverbial.
- COVID has accentuated the need to be able to change gears and accelerate or brake as needs demand.
- The ability to read people and nurture them in a challenging environment. The ability to take those “readings” and interpret them accurately so it facilitates making the best decisions in the circumstances that prevail.
- A humility that ensures that it is “not about you but the client”. A continual focus on quality and performance
- A capacity to build strong teams.
- The ability to think and act at system level, to join the dots, to think in ecosystems, not sector siloes.
Why is the Learning Sets program just as relevant today as it was 30 years ago?
I think organisations are more complex, the pace of change is faster, the people challenges are greater, the lack of investment in leadership development over an extended period of time is significant. Add to that accelerated technology advancement, AI, Digital, a more demanding client/customer base, social media, the political context is more demanding (and maybe more intrusive). And, we don’t have the number of middle management levels that existed in the past so there is a lack of planned development through programs, study, mentoring, coaching, work experiences to prepare people for the next level. There has been a more of a sink or swim and see if you can survive approach. Leadership development was seen as a cost.
Learning Sets have proven their value time and time again because they are practical and pragmatic and grounded in the hard reality of organisational and personal challenges where the speed of change accelerates all of the time. You can clearly identify the ROI. You cannot hide for long because your peers in Sets know.
COVID proved the value of Sets because leaders needed to be able to flex, adapt and change and test their ideas in speed meetings with their Sets which were held more regularly. Since then Set meetings have become face to face again because its members wanted the face to face interaction and the exchanges and networking that occurs during breakfast, lunch and dinner and other breaks.
Set membership actually increased during the COVID period because people had critical issues to resolve fast. Sets were the reality tester for members. No one had time for soft talk. It was hard edged but very supportive of each member and the strain they were under.
At the end of the day Learning Sets represent a valuable framework for maximizing the impact of executive development across any organization. By being part of Learning Sets you are including others in the learning process and encouraging deeper understanding of topics. Sets are also a great way for senior executives to refresh and maintain the importance of communication among colleagues, restore clarity and address the need for connection among peers.
About the Author
Kevin is the founder and Board Chair of HardyGroup. HardyGroup has extensive networks in health and human services across Australia and New Zealand.