Sponsored contribution: Why do future leaders need personal leadership development?

16th September 2008, Comments 0 comments

Dianne Bevelander, Associate Dean of MBA programmes at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, explains why future leaders need personal leadership development.

Global Transitions
RSMOf the more dramatic features of the 20th century, two stand out:  the rapid pace of change and the revolution of communication systems. Both processes accelerated links between diverse communities in the globalisation process.

It is now commonplace to say that business leadership requires the flexibility to deal with the unknown as well as the unexpected.

In the first decade of the 21st century, we have the benefit of more foresight - dealing with diversity and uncertainty is now the norm. As the pace of global and business change become even faster, it’s clear that communication will be an even more vital component of fostering and managing these changes.

A well as the above-mentioned general shifts in the global workplace, internal ways of operating have gone through a profound change in many organisations. From hierarchies of reporting to networks of relationships; from planning, controlling and monitoring to listening, questioning and coaching; from the belief in finding one right answer to an openness to diverse perspectives; from the need to win in adversarial debate to creating shared meaning through dialogue. Communication, cooperation and interdependence mark this shift; the ‘servant leader’ model follows on. Modern leaders rely less on their authority but rather have a greater need to be experienced as authentic; information should be spread widely to empower employees, rather than be held back as a form of exclusive executive power.

So what do today’s business and organisational leaders need in order to cope with these new dynamics?

At the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, we have found that they need more complex skills in predicting, fostering and managing change and in harnessing the creative powers of diversity. The diversity aspired to by so many business schools is an integral part of the very DNA of RSM. From the start, we have been one of the world’s most internationally diverse business schools and our programmes have long provided ‘informal’ experience in the complex skills required to succeed in a global business. Working and studying with other MBA candidates from as many as 50 countries within one class, our participants learn that, to  be truly successful, managers and leaders need to understand context and process… and people. They must have the capacity to engage others who, quite probably, have very different world views. Although this total diversity presents challenges, they are irrelevant compared to the excitement engendered by innovation and perpetual renewal. Different perspectives bring different and exciting ideas that make for a challenging and rewarding educational environment.

Leveraging diversity is too important to leave to chance. Through the right kind of personal leadership development, executives can become better “readers” of diversity and of socially and economically complex issues. They are able to take these skills into an organisation

Personal Leadership Development (PLD)
At RSM, we believe that a world-class MBA requires two things: solid academic grounding, and extensive practical application. All of our MBA programmes have been developed with this in mind, from the international faculty we select to teach the programmes to our innovative teaching methods, which require MBA candidates to work alongside some of the world’s leading companies.

Our MBA programmes help foster business leaders who can:
•    think critically
•    make sound decisions, and
•    implement those decisions

More importantly, they need to do this with a broad sensitivity to the roles and responsibilities of business to society and to the environment.

This is where RSM’s Personal Leadership Development (PLD) comes in
. Drawing on a strong theoretical basis, PLD courses and processes focus more on “what do you actually do and need to change?” rather than “what should X do in case Y?”, or “what would you do if you were Z?”. PLD relies strongly on an experiential, intensive workshop format; this is integrated with an ongoing action-learning process, with regular reflection and feedback to inform the process. ‘Blind spots’ in personal development are uncovered, and students are coached, individually and in teams, on how they can improve their performance, mitigate their weaknesses, build on their strengths, and use their networks.

Key elements of the developmental process are (a) raising awareness of experience and current people management practices, (b) introducing alternative perspectives, methods and concepts, and (c) generating new insights which motivate sustained developmental action and change.

Personal Leadership Development (PLD), then, is about managing personal change and development in the context of organisational and business leadership. But why the “personal” in leadership development? Leading in today’s organisations, whether as a CEO or in any other managerial or supervisory position, inevitably involves trying to influence significant changes. However, it is very difficult to bring about substantial, sustainable changes in any group of people without changes in the ways they behave. But here’s the catch: it is very hard to lead others through change without considering that we ourselves must change.  

The key principles of RSM’s Personal Leadership Development programme – which runs parallel to the knowledge-and-skills-based courses of our MBA – are that leaders should be able to  (1) know and manage themselves; and (2) know and manage the people - the relationships - they need to work with. This requires complex skills of self-awareness, reflective practice, communication, and change management. These complex skills can be developed, but this requires a disciplined and dedicated process of applied, adult learning in meaningful contexts.  

Amongst the meaningful contexts: Networking. Personal Leadership Development at RSM is now focused on developing networking skills, and providing networking opportunities. This is not ‘old style’ networking, that is forming social bonds; it is about understanding that the creation of a complex of networks – knowledge networks, creative networks, information networks – are crucial to business. Networks are people.  Connecting with others – whether with classmates or with the CEO of a local organisation who is ‘grading’ an in-company assignment – can be uncomfortable. It will shine a bright light on areas that students feel are their ‘weakest’ or least attractive qualities; it will require them to move away from their own perceptions and principles, in order to accommodate others’ differences.

It will, in other words, help to forge a leader – someone who is able to lead in the unpredictable, diverse, complex, and sometimes messy arena of global business.

About the author:
Dianne Bevelander is Associate Dean of MBA programmes at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University -  a top-ranked international business school renowned for its ground-breaking research in sustainable business practice and for the development of leaders in global business. Offering an array of bachelor, master, doctoral, MBA and executive education programmes, RSM is consistently ranked amongst the top 10 business schools in Europe. www.rsm.nl

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