The business world today is experiencing a leadership gap. We talk about the skills gap and the challenges facing recruiting. What about leadership? It only seems logical that if there are gaps at other levels of the organization…there will be a gap at the leadership level. I don’t hear anyone saying, “We have plenty of great leaders; we just don’t have any good employees.”
Organizations need to take an active role in creating their leaders. It doesn’t seem practical to assume that one activity alone can prepare future leaders. Educational institutes cannot do it alone. The individuals themselves cannot do it alone. Business must be involved.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Elad Levinson. What intrigued me about our conversation is his background. He is both an experienced organizational development and effectiveness consultant as well as a practitioner of mindfulness. His background includes senior management roles with Stanford University, Agilent Technologies and ICANN. I wanted to hear his thoughts on balancing our roles as leaders in business world with mindfulness.
Elad, what would you say are the key competencies an individual needs to be successful in today’s business world?
[Elad] The most underrated competencies are those that require self-understanding. For example, a very important competency is the ability to regulate your internal responses and reactions to external triggers, like difficult conversations. This competency requires three traits:
- Awareness of internal conditions that lead to specific reactions;
- Language skills that make it possible to name and monitor those feelings that often accompany cognitive responses; and
- Organizational methods for putting the response in specific terms that accomplish your intended outcome.
That being said, are employees being provided the opportunities to develop the competencies you’ve mentioned (whether that takes place in a school or work setting)?
[Elad] I think time starvation has become the enemy of learning and development. It’s also the one issue that we have a lot more influence over than we give ourselves credit for! It just takes focus, discipline, and a clear sense of what is important.
All too often I hear leaders say that the training of their direct reports or team members is cast off as not urgent or not essential. Most company cultures are not challenging the assumptions that multi-tasking, frequent interruptions through all manners of communication, office inefficiencies and the like occupy so much time but produce very little value in the long run.
When Bill Sullivan, the longtime CEO of Agilent, took his role he said the job of a leader is to set strategy, build organizational capability and capacity, and execute on results. That’s why creating space for learning and development is so crucial. I regret that the development cultures of long-standing good companies have begun to ignore the need for employees to grow, learn, and expand their portfolio of skills for the exigencies of today.
Since human resources is traditionally involved in conversations about succession planning, recruiting and leadership development, what can HR do to bridge this gap between the skills needed for success and the opportunities necessary to get them?
[Elad] I strongly believe that HR has a critical role in the cultural development of a company’s learning and development model. Here are three crucial steps that HR can take to improve the likelihood that competency building is the norm:
- Develop a position paper that articulates the best practices of development cultures. The paper should include a business case for the resources, time, and intention to place development as an intrinsic part of the company. Take that position paper and stump for the acceptance and approval at every stakeholder meeting and with senior staff.
- Make the HR department function as an exemplar of development. Show how your staff is developing the skills and capabilities needed for HR to function today and in the future.
- Be sure development is a critical competency in the framework of performance management. Build it into the reward and recognition system and place incentives and consequences for leaders who ignore the development of their people and themselves.
Don’t be afraid to be a monomaniac with a mission. Better to go down knowing you stood for what was right than to give into the tendency to act on urgency not strategy.
I’ve noticed a growing conversation about mindfulness and leadership. As one of the first to apply the stress theory to business and leadership, how can mindfulness help individuals and organizations develop better leaders?
[Elad] I think of meditation as mind and emotional intelligence training. There are quite subtle but exceptional outcomes from mindfulness training that are valuable for any leader. According to my peers and my staff, mindfulness training has made me:
- Less reactive and more likely to listen carefully to others’ perspectives—especially when they are directly in conflict with my own intentions or assumptions. I am able to consider that I might be wrong or need to be inclusive of views that challenge my own.
- Intent on generating and cultivating goodwill with my peers, staff and stakeholders. I tend to know how to incline my thinking and actions so that it is in line with my intent to do well in speech or action.
- Better able to investigate myself. I am extremely curious and you will know this if you are short on time and listening to my latest curiosity or passion-driven exploration! I am aware of so much more of my personality that used to be quite unconscious—and perhaps motivating—but not particularly skillful. My curious nature extends now to understand my drives and motives, and prevents me from mindlessly reacting.
- Insight seems to be an important skill that is developed by mind training. I can see into problems and decision-making processes that in the past I might have ignored or been mindless about.
- I know that my newfound authentic interest in others’ perspectives leads them to trust me and work more collaboratively with me. I am not a threat to their intentions and desires since I am committed to being inclusive and cooperative when it is appropriate.
Over the years, you’ve been a trusted ally and coach to executives and leaders. This has led to innovative approaches helping leaders thrive on change. Tell us about the course you’ve created for Praxis You called “Thriving on Change.” What will this program provide organizational leaders that isn’t being taught in B-school?
[Elad] Thriving on Change rests upon three pillars. These pillars are:
- Mindful awareness. This is operationalized in the course as both moment-to-moment awareness of the incremental and subtle changes occurring internally and in the business environment, as well as an awareness of reactions that are emotional, cognitive and physical.
- Focus, attention and relaxation. In the course there are skills and tools that train participants to learn how to focus for long periods of time with less stress; lift attention off a focus and place it somewhere else consciously and intentionally; and relax attention when ‘underdoing it.’ Students are also trained how to direct the attention of staff and others to the right stuff—that which is strategic and important.
- Generating and cultivating goodwill. Goodwill is that invisible but critical lubricant that makes cooperation, collaboration and skillful conflict resolution possible. Mental and active tools that help the learner incline herself to goodwill will in turn promote a culture of positivity (and often result in voluntary stakeholder engagement).
‘Thriving on Change’ rests on the assumption that learning these skills will give users the toolkit to make the right strategic decisions, mindfully, in times of high stress. As such, the course is highly action-oriented with varying ways to incorporate new or more highly developed competencies into your daily life in both personal and professional scenarios. To learn more, visit https://morethansound.net/praxis/.
Many thanks to Elad for sharing is expertise with us. If you want to stay in touch with his work, you can download his new ebook “Learn to Dance on Jello”, or follow him on Twitter. He’s currently the senior organizational effectiveness consultant at 4128Associates and you can reach out to him there as well.
While I continue to believe that leadership skills need to be developed at every level of the organization, that doesn’t mean that they should be developed in a singular fashion. Companies need to cultivate leaders using a variety of methods and topics.
Image courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby