Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Leadership Development is not Supposed to be FUN

When it comes to leadership development, I’ve always been a bit of a curmudgeon. Here’s the way I’ve always thought about leadership development:

There is no such thing as a natural born leader - it takes a lot of HARD work to become one. If it was easy, then we wouldn’t be having discussions about a lack of leaders.

Geoff Colvin, in his book Talent is Overrated, was right on. NO ONE ever got good at anything without hundreds and hundreds of hours of repetitive, boring practice.

Since we moved to the seacoast, I’ve been trying to learn to surf. It’s involved a lot of falling and getting water up my nose and sand in my ears. The 18-year-old that gave me my first lesson just shook his head and told me, “Hang in there dude, you’ll get there, it’s just going to take a LOT of hard work”. For now, it’s not much fun. It hurts; it’s frustrating, and sometimes embarrassing. Someday I may actually be able to stand up and ride a decent wave. That would be the real reward – and then it becomes fun!

Real leadership development should be more science than art, backed up with tried and true evidence-based theory and practices. Fads will come and go, but the laws of physics are timeless. At the end of the day, there are only 6 ways to learn to be a better leader:

1. Job changes

2. Challenging assignments (on or off the job)

3. Hardships (learning from failure, personal setbacks)

4. Learning from others (good and bad bosses, roles models, coaches, mentors, etc…)

5. Feedback

6. Courses (that incorporate 2-5), books, and other formal learning

Getting tough feedback, taking on a stretch assignment, being promoted to a new, unfamiliar role, working with a coach, making mistakes, and sweating thorough a realistic simulation or role play may be challenging and rewarding, but usually not a lot of fun. In fact, if you’re having too much fun, I doubt you’re really developing.

You know that queasy feeling you have when you’re about to do something really scarey? That’s when you know you’re developing. Lominger calls it “developmental heat”.

There are no short cuts, silver bullets, magic pills, or miracle elixirs when it comes to becoming a great leader. However, there’s a huge, hungry audience that’s all too willing to shell out big bucks to take a shot at the latest and greatest fad.

Here’s a sampling of real leadership development programs being offered today:

1. Leadership development via a round of golf:

“Transforms today’s managers into tomorrow’s leaders by combining experiential leadership development methods with simulation (including a unique business simulation on the golf course!).”

2. Leadership development through cooking and eating:

“The Restaurant Challenge combines an optimum blend of world-class executive facilitation and coaching with complex, powerful, engaging and real live business challenges - the setting up of a successful restaurant - to create the ideal environment for effective and lasting leadership development.”

3. Leading development through horse whispering;

“Courses with Horses combine horse whispering and non-directive coaching in powerful learning experiences through which clients explore and expand their leadership capabilities.”

4. Leadership development through sailing:

"An ideal team building and leadership development sailing program. BoatWorks leverages a non-racing, multi-boat format to get your group gelling as they battle the wind, the currents, their collective anxieties and a special group challenge, all under the watchful eyes of a professional coaching staff."

5. Leadership development though fire walking:

21 people treated for burns after firewalk at Tony Robbins appearance.

OK, so maybe this one’s not such a good idea.

6. And last but not least, what better way to learn to lead others than leadership development through paintball:

"No other leadership training program comes close to this fear conquering event. One Day Adventures utilizes the outdoor or indoor paintball field to squeeze the fear out of leaders. Imagine storming the gate of the enemy while leading a group of your peers in the face of overwhelming odds."

These are just of a few – there are many, many more.

Clearly, there are many in leadership development that are having more fun than I am. Maybe it’s time to lighten up and to jump on the bandwagon?

How about this: Cowabunga: the Great Leadership Surf Camp for Leaders?


Anonymous said...

Hey Dan! I just noticed your post, and thought I should point out that the Tony Robbins firewalk exercise (which is more about showing participants how they can get over their mental hangups than "leadership development") was incorrectly reported by the Mercury-News. Even Fox News, which covered the issue, gave an on-air retraction! You can read more about what really happened on the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marianne-schnall/tony-robbins-fire-walk_b_1718499.html

Dan McCarthy said...

Courtney -
Thanks. Happy to print all clarifications and rebuttals. While this specific program was not intended for leadership development, many fire-walking programs are.

Mary Jo Asmus said...

Hi Dan, I've had occasion to use equine assisted learning with a few clients. I must say that when done well and facilitated well, it can be a lot of work with incredible "aha" moments. I've had a few myself. The real work, however, comes with working on what's been learned after the session!

Dan McCarthy said...

Mary Jo -
Thanks, that's a great way to make the distinction. Yes, fun way to learn and maybe get some powerful insights, but hard work to apply.

Tim G said...

Well said, Dan.

I like to tell people that I'm working with "If you're comfortable, you aren't growing."

Dan McCarthy said...

Tim -
Thanks. I like that a LOT better than the way I first said it and then edited it: "If you feel like you're about to get sick, then you are developing". Someone thought I was comparing throwing up with development - which I thought was a valid point. (-:

James Lawther said...

Dan, I enjoyed your post, but I am not sure it is quite so black and white...

I agree that if it is comfortable you probably aren't developing

But that doesn't mean that if it isn't comfortable it isn't fun, or that if it isn't fun you are developing (confused yet?)

I guess there is a sweet spot which is far enough outside your comfort zone for you to learn and develop (and have fun) whilst at the same time not being such a nightmare of an experience that you get tunnel vision, a nose bleed and start screaming for your mother

If it is that bad you probably aren't getting much out of it. And probably never will.


PS Good luck with the surfing

Dan McCarthy said...

James -
Thanks. This was one of those posts where I'm really learning a lot from my readers through the comments. I like your "sweet spot" point.

Terry said...

Hi Dan,

I totally agree that leadership development is not always fun. I believe leaders need to face challenges where their current view of the world doesn't provide an answer. After a period of anxiety the leader develops, sees the world in a new way and an answer emerges. This is not always fun, but if supported the leader can find it a rewarding experience.

However, a lot of people who procure leadership development programmes for leaders often want their people to have fun rather than anxiety. That way they get good feedback themselves. Hence the paint balling and fire walking.


Dan McCarthy said...

Terry -
Right, if you are in the business of "selling" programs, internally or externally, fun is an easier sale than anxiety.

Margaret Feinberg said...

I'm liking the sound of the restaurant and paintball leadership course. Why not have some high intensity fun and great food while learning great leadership skills in half the time??

Dan McCarthy said...

Thanks. If that we're really possible, then sure, why not?