I run loads of leadership development workshops and I’m often amazed at the belief in some organisations that leadership development is something for the middle layers of management and not for the top tiers.
I don’t think it’s a natural arrogance of the top levels of leadership but I do wonder if it is a belief (and maybe sometimes a fear) that the top levels should already know it all and therefore shouldn’t need to attend?
Learning is critical in any role and at any level. – How else are we to improve? If you are not learning at every level, can you really consider yourself to be a learning organisation?
Sometimes I do get senior figures to come along; opening the workshop and imploring the attendees to take advantage of the opportunity and even admitting, with some humility, that they, too, are open to learn a new thing or two.
But the inference is that they most likely won’t and despite the best intent, these words reinforce a belief that the more senior you are, the more you should (already) know.
So let me tell you a story of some amazing leadership, in a display of unrivalled vulnerability.
Around 640 BC, there lived a king of the Hebrews called Josiah, and in the mess that was his kingdom, he found an ancient Book of the Law. Upon reading it, Josiah realised that his people hadn’t been living in accordance with their customs and traditions. He also recognised his own failings at reaching the required standard and it didn’t sit well with him.
So what did he do?
King Josiah stood up in front of his people, shared the Book of the Law and then went on to detail his own weaknesses and failings and committed to learn and improve.
Some might see this as a moment of weakness, highly improper from such an exalted leader. He was meant to be a King!
But this act of vulnerability and accountability had a radical effect throughout his Court and his Kingdom. Being open about his own development needs effectively gave permission for his people to be open about theirs: It was okay not to be perfect. It was okay to say “I need to improve” and be specific about the area of improvement.
His kingdom went through rapid change after that, growing, developing and flourishing. You could argue his kingdom became the first learning organisation, two and a half thousand years ahead of its time.
I love this story because this wasn’t a leader standing up and saying, “I’m open to learning.” That would have been an easy, low risk statement that would do little to help people open up about their development needs. No, this was a bold and brave statement identifying his weaknesses and failings and publicly committing to do something about them.
Do you see the difference? Your people will.