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Leadership Series | Torrents and Toothpicks

Flexible working arrangements, the rise of digital/social communication, increasing economic uncertainty, constant change, endless reshuffling of the deckchairs…how is a leader to cope? Well clearly the leader who tries to control all of this will not. How could you? It’s like trying to hold back a torrent with a toothpick.

So what does effective leadership look like in this day and age? This is (not surprisingly given we spruik ourselves as consultants) a question that a lot of people we meet in our professional life ask. Sometimes the question is explicit – as when designing a leadership development program; and sometimes its implicit within the broader exploration of themes such as culture, engagement and motivation.

A-HA! is proud to announce a partnership with Duncan Young, a leadership and communication expert who’s worked with some of the best of the best. Duncan and A-HA! have struck a partnership that we’re most excited about. We’ll be designing and facilitating leadership development programs that challenge the conventional delivery modes.

What Duncan notices is that many (himself included) attempt to define leadership as a set of qualities that link to behaviours that are aligned with the organisational values and strategy. Makes sense doesn’t it? This sort of thinking gives a relatively clear set of parameters for recruitment and development: interview/test for the right qualities and encourage the full expression of those qualities as appropriate to the myriad of situations in which a manager needs to…well, manage. Then to top it off, offer them systems and processes that they can wrap their black belt around, and they’re all set.

This approach has undoubted merit. Investing in the development of a manager’s skills can pay dividends in terms of both their efficacy and the engagement of their immediate teams. However, we question whether it is enough. The issue we see is that it could all amount in an attempt to arm leaders with bigger toothpicks. Whether it’s a set of behavioural guidelines (leadership competency frameworks, 360 feedback reports and so on) or the latest iPad-accessible-big-data-workflow-analytic-tool (we don’t think this is a real thing…but you never know) – it’s a torrent! Its coming from all sides – its rising beneath you and swamping you from above. Control, and all its associated tools and techniques, is doomed to fail.

So the answer is…well, we’re in the process of trying to work it out. We’ve got some ideas and are extremely excited to be exploring those ideas with some fantastically interesting and intelligent people but suspect the pursuit of the answer is a bit like the story of Tantalus: just as you get close, the rip-tide of change will drag it away again – and after all, isn’t trying to find the answer just another attempt at control?

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