Lessons in leadership

Whether it’s preparing the perfect soufflé or belting out a Brazilian samba beat on the drums, leadership courses today come in all shapes and sizes. Business XL searches for the best methods of assisting today’s – and moulding tomorrow’s – leaders.

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Whether it’s preparing the perfect soufflé or belting out a Brazilian samba beat on the drums, leadership courses today come in all shapes and sizes. Business XL searches for the best methods of assisting today’s – and moulding tomorrow’s – leaders.

Whether it’s preparing the perfect soufflé or belting out a Brazilian samba beat on the drums, leadership courses today come in all shapes and sizes. Business XL searches for the best methods of assisting today’s – and moulding tomorrow’s – leaders.

Two-thirds of UK organisations are suffering from a shortage of highly effective leaders, according to a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. A lack of interest and reluctance from employees to take up the leadership mantle is, apparently, proving to be a huge barrier to delivering the required improvements.

What is needed is for companies to take the lead. One of the best ways they can do this, says national leadership organisation JCI UK (part of the global leadership organisation Junior Chamber International), is to adopt innovative ways to develop skills that actually appeal to individuals. The organisation says leadership development training should combine theory as well as practical experience, so that companies can develop individuals capable of leading them through tough times or periods of change. Methods vary, depending on funds, inclination and time available. The key to training though, is getting the right people on the right courses.

Invest a billion
One company that invests heavily in leadership training is US giant General Electric (GE). It spends an incredible $1 billion a year on training, but then, with 27,000 employees in 35 countries generating revenues of $152.4bn in 2004, it can well afford to. But the company puts its success down to the training it offers all its staff.

GE Commercial Finance (GECF), the largest business in the GE stable, makes sure all of its business leaders undergo extensive training via a dedicated leadership programme. In fact, it sends more than 12,500 people on its Financial Management Leadership Programme course. In 2004, nearly 96 per cent of GECF employees participated in some form of company-sponsored course or training, ranging from courses on basic business writing to financial modelling, to leadership traits. These school its executives on ways to work with difficult personalities or exploring the nuances of managing 10,000 people.

A cheaper option
If your company doesn’t have a spare billion dollars, mentoring remains a more practical leadership-learning tool. Mentoring is a way for an experienced entrepreneurial leader to give career assistance to a leader of the future. Mentoring relationships are especially helpful during periods of transition, such as a new business launch, an acquisition or a period of business expansion. There are many mentoring groups that exist and even the highest-profile business leaders find time to speak to mentors to offer them advice or act as an independent sounding board.

Marching to the beat of a different drum
Creative approaches to teaching leadership are becoming more prevalent. Creative art forms, such as drumming, theatre and poetry, are being used increasingly by executives to improve their leadership communication skills. Apparently, drumming, which involves a lot of working as a team, requires an ability to listen and appreciate what others are doing around you. Meanwhile, techniques derived from theatre, such as direction and rehearsal, can coax better performances from the players, who can then take those skills into their leadership of the business.

One West Yorkshire-based collective, known as Drumming 4 Business, runs successful workshops throughout England and Europe. Its team drums vigour into a range of Brazilian and Latin rhythms in inspirational team-building workshops for groups ranging from 20 to a thousand people.

Although the mere thought of a day out of the office tackling Brazilian drumming will fill many with fear and dread, these ‘powerful and energising’ workshops are said to encourage staff to work cooperatively to create an exciting performance. The frenetic musical output can build a happier workplace, create stronger working relationships and team spirit, promote more effective communication and develop leadership and coaching skills. Well, that’s the theory.

Another leadership fad revolves around the wordplay of poetry, which, its proponents claim, can lend a greater impact to everyday business communications such as emails. The blurb promises that entrepreneurial leaders, who may start off feeling uneasy at these sessions, will leave stimulated, enlightened and challenged, and with greater skills as business managers.

‘We help and advise businesses using creative-based techniques,’ says Jonathan Tuchner from regional creative network organisation Arts & Business. ‘We meet with companies, find out what their problems are or what it is they are trying to achieve, and then we design a bespoke solution. We actually take artists from our database into their offices.’ Tuchner is quick to add that these methods are ‘not gimmicky’ and ‘have proven business success’.

Cooking up leadership skills
Another new approach to leadership training involves cooking. Honest. One enthusiast is Guy Sellwood, of international performance improvement consultancy Prosell, which held a cookery training session for leaders, called Get, Set, Cook.

Says Sellwood: ‘We were looking for something different to illustrate the principles of coaching with a group of leaders and managers, many of whom had already attended traditional coaching training. Cookery, and oriental cooking in particular, came to mind because it is creative, involves teams, requires a wide range of technical skills, and can be enjoyed by everyone. Oriental cookery is perfect because dishes can be made relatively quickly and with limited preparation.’

The cookery session went very well, says Sellwood, with everyone getting involved in the session and ‘a number of key lessons learnt’. These included the importance of accuracy and thoroughness in instruction, ably demonstrated when the team were using very sharp knives and the exceedingly hot oven. He also says the group learnt a lot about themselves as a team, in terms of strengths and weaknesses. ‘There were surprises in store, in particular with regard to how the team had seen themselves before and after the event.

The debrief session saw the group coaching each other on aspects of behaviour that they would never have touched in the work place.’ Finally, Sellwood says, any training initiative needs to be supported by rigorous, directed and supportive coaching from line management. The leadership benefits of the cookery session were twofold. First was the ability to articulate and deliver feedback more effectively and second was a greater understanding of themselves. The group was able to receive feedback from colleagues in a way that helped them make sense of why things happen in certain ways.

Have clear aims
Whatever method of training leaders a company opts for, the most crucial point is to be clear about the aim of the effort. It is important to set clear goals and work towards them, and ensure the right people are on the right courses. Because for every Jack Welch created by a leadership course, there are a thousand Gerald Ratners.


Further information:

  • JCI UK is part of 250,000-member umbrella organisation the Junior Chamber International, the worldwide leadership development organisation active in more than a hundred countries. For more information, visit the website www.jciuk.org.uk
  • Drumming Up Business, which specialises in team-building, stress management and other corporate events 01236 -823869

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