Skill set or Mindset? Investing in Leadership Development

Let me start off by asking those of you responsible for talent management and leadership training what may seem a very simple question. If you had $100 to invest in developing leadership talent, would you spend it on training your leaders and managers in a high performance skill-set or mindset? Which would give the best return on investment?

A high performance skill-set is quite different from a high performance mindset. Please allow me to explain.

Over the past 20 years, researchers investigating leadership have identified a range of skills top leaders possess and which they engage in effectively and consistently. Here’s a partial list of the high performance leadership skill-set that distinguishes average leaders from exceptional leaders.

  • Communicate a clear vision for the organisation’s future
  • Display a high level of energy and enthusiasm to motivate others
  • Encourage staff to share creative, innovative ideas without fear of being criticised or ridiculed
  • Deal with conflict and work to solve problems in a timely fashion
  • Involve members of staff in decision-making that affects their work
  • Model values include being trustworthy and doing the right thing
  • Focus on what’s working well and what’s exceptional in individuals, teams and the organisation
  • Identify and build on people’s strengths (rather than trying to correct weaknesses) as well as consider people’s strengths in work assignments
  • Show through actions and words that every employee is valued including the tasks they are engaged in
  • Communicate to staff a greater ratio (5:1) of positive feedback than negative feedback

Over the same period of time, researchers studying positive psychological organisational behaviour of highly effective leaders have identified the following work beliefs and behavioural strengths that distinguish the work performance mindset of average from exceptional leaders.

  • Stay calm in challenging situations and with difficult people.
  • 100 percent determined to complete tasks.
  • Have the self-belief in their ability to lead and to be successful.
  • Know the importance of how to stay connected with and supporting senior management, employees and clients who display difficult behaviour.
  • Believe that no matter one’s age, stage or status, one is always developing over time with effort and experience.
  • Accept that all people are fallible from time to time and not judge people’s values based on their behaviour; that is, not condemn the sinner for the sin.
  • Believe in the importance of empathic listening to others in a non-prejudicial and non-judgmental way.
  • Know the importance of knowing themselves and what they stand for and behave accordingly.
  • Do not judge their value as people based on their work performance including what others think of them; (with humility), they accept themselves as worthwhile no matter what.
  • Make a conscious choice to be aware of the positive rather than negative aspects of a situation, person and what has transpired during the day.

Before deciding how you wish to allocate the $100, consider the following.

When leaders undergo learning and development programs, not all of them apply what they learned back at the workplace. What’s been your experience? What percent of your leaders and managers seem to have profited from the training? What percent are more effective leaders as a result?

Here’s what we have learned; those leaders who have a well-developed set of work attitudes and behavioural strengths are most likely to transfer their training to the workplace. Leaders who do not have a high performance mindset do not generally take that much away from a lot of leadership training programs.

My colleague, Dr Tim Baker, international business consultant and author of The End of Performance Review (2013, Palgrave Macmillan), has shared with me his view that upwards of 60 percent of the effectiveness and sustainability of his innovative training program is due to the prevailing mindset of those who participate.

Here’s my recommendation on how to invest the $100.

Invest $50 in helping people become aware of and employ high performance leadership skills.

However, to prepare leaders for behavioural change in their leadership style, I’d initially invest $50 into mindset training as it will multiply the impact of all other leadership and talent management programs you are using.

As a matter of interest, in our HPMW Leadership and Management Program, we integrate skill-set and mindset development in a customised program based on your organisation’s challenges and priorities.

For more information on the HPMW Leadership and Management program, contact The Bernard Group: (03) 9415 8327.

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