A Career With Impact?

Impactpool is a unique career platform aiming to provide the best possible support to people who want to pursue a career within mission-driven organisations. Impactpool (previously UNjobfinder) was founded in 2015 and is a social enterprise with headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden. Its founders were aware of the need for a qualified, customer oriented and user-friendly service covering the global employment sector of mission driven organisations.

Impactpool’s own mission is to support highly qualified and motivated individuals by helping them grow professionally and to develop successful careers within organisations that contribute to a sustainable world. In just three years Impactpool has become the world’s fastest growing career website with a focus on talents and organisations who are striving for and contributing to a sustainable world. The service gathers opportunities from hundreds of international organisations around the world including all UN organisations, international financial institutions, the European Union and the most influential intergovernmental and Non-Governmental Organisations.

For talent seeking to break into this niche global marketplace, Impactpool provides a “shop window” on approaching 2500 daily-updated entry, mid-career and executive level appointments across (currently, and growing) 156 organisations. A single portal provides unique job search functionality. This is complemented by a dedicated and independent career coaching service provided by coaches with successful career records in the industry; I am honoured to be a part of this network. The organisational coverage is impressive covering an ever-expanding range of international, governmental, medical, justice, faith based, peacekeeping, and humanitarian and development organisations with current vacancies across the globe.

Alongside this dynamic slate of opportunities those who sign up to Impactpool have access to invaluable career guides. “Start Making a Difference” is a must-read providing an introduction to a career in international development. Experienced recruiters and HR specialists explain how to start your career in the sector, including what you need to know about educational requirements, relevant skills and experience, the differing organisation types, career tracks, and remuneration. The Impactpool authors share concrete, honest advice on how to approach your career strategically—from choosing the right jobs to apply for to positioning yourself in the best possible way for growth and advancement.

For experienced talent, “The Senior Assessment Guide” is an invaluable “preparation kit” to use when facing a UN assessment centre.  The eBook describes the different UN pools, how you get into them, how you are assessed, and how you finally get selected. These pools primarily target senior internal staff at the UN, but the Guide also describes how external leaders have successfully gained access to pools in the past.

Complementing this targeted Guide, Impactpool also publish general interview guides and question banks for those applying for international organisation careers, humanitarian and development sector roles. Regular summary articles highlight the beginning and flag up the closure of recruitment campaigns. Click for further information.

(The writer is an Impactpool Fellow).

Learning with Kaya

Kaya is the online learning platform of the Humanitarian Leadership Academy.

50,000 people from nearly 200 countries across the world are using Kaya to learn about humanitarian issues and action. On Kaya you will find online elearning and in-person workshops that will help you learn what you need to take you where you want to go, whether you are a professional humanitarian looking for career development, or a community member supporting the response to a crisis in your own country.

Kaya’s courses are grouped into learning pathways – combinations of online and in-person learning opportunities – that mean at the beginning of your learning journey you do not need to know exactly what you want to learn.

Within Kaya you will find:

  • Online elearning content
  • Videos
  • Documents and files

Information and registration for in-person events:

  • Workshops
  • Talks
  • Webinars (streamed film of events that you can access from your phone or computer)

Kaya is designed to be accessed from phones, tablets, laptops and PCs, so you can use it whenever and wherever you want.

You can search for a course through the Catalogue. This will show you individual courses as well as whole pathways of learning you can take part in. You can use the filters at the side to change the results you are shown.

Click on the result you are interested in to be taken to its page.  Join the course by clicking on the ‘Join’ button. On a mobile phone, this box will be underneath the course description. On a larger screen, it will be at the right of the page.

How much do the courses on Kaya cost?

All courses are entirely free, unless a course description specifically says otherwise – you will be able to find any cost information on the summary page of each course.

Investing In Transitions

Any bar room discussion where the word “transition” recurs is likely to be focused on the UK’s transition period due to kick in as the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. There are other, and we would say, equally complicated and life determining transitions that need to be made. As a former global talent leader with experience managing talent in over one hundred countries I consider that the education to work and training transition experiences offered to young people in the UK are letting down a generation. I am not alone in this.

A House of Lords select committee found, in February, that the apprenticeship system was “woefully inadequate”. The levy system, designed to ensure that three million people start an apprenticeship by 2020, is – on the evidence of new starts – actively repelling rather than encouraging employers to invest in apprenticeships.

Ofsted inspects the support system for apprenticeships: the colleges and training providers that offer the vocational training. They have concluded that 51% are either inadequate or needing improvement. Meantime, a January 2018 CIPD survey found that employers were actively engaged in “rebadging” training for existing employees as an apprenticeship in order to recoup the costs of the levy. The need for some agreed “red lines” here is clear.

Ethical trade addresses the ethical aspects of organisations including worker welfare. Many multinational organisations have adopted ethical trade policies that are policed by auditors monitoring the conditions of workers in their supply chains. Coherent with this good practice you might expect to find that, within the UK, there are no unpaid internships: you would be wrong. Between 70,000 and 100,000 unpaid internships are estimated to take place in the UK every year. Many of these young people work in London and certain industries have now established career entry routes that customarily rely on “serving an internship” as part of a threshold experience. Curious that, in years past, the commonplace phrase would have been “serving an apprenticeship” and yet today the legal status and, therefore, the remuneration – if any – due to an intern is a matter for the courts. When is an intern not an employee? Perhaps when they are a volunteer? Are they entitled to the National Minimum Wage: it depends.

Given all of this complexity, the House of Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility report “Overlooked and left behind” (April 2016) was surely correct in concluding that: “Every young person should have access to independent, impartial careers advice.” Careers education and guidance are important for social mobility. This is because knowing about the options available, and the skills needed to navigate those options, are a key part of a successful transition to work. The Education Act 2011, which made schools responsible for providing independent and impartial careers advice and guidance, also defined “independent” as “provided other than by a teacher employed or engaged at the school, or any other person employed at the school”. Impartial was defined as “showing no bias towards any education or work option”. Whilst these definitions are helpful, schools could be forgiven for being confused given that the same Act also removed their statutory duty to provide careers education!

Realistically, the funding and performance table system does not incentivise schools to give independent careers advice. It is hardly surprising that the House of Lords heard repeated testimony confirming what The Prince’s Trust told Peers, that: “schools have become increasingly focused on preparing for exams and less focused on preparing young people for the world of work.”

On the evidence so far cited, I would contend that the need for excellent, independent career advice based on a strong foundation of careers education is now more important than it has been for decades. For economic, social, mobility, skills, health and moral reasons we should be investing in helping young people make their transition from school to work because the dilemmas they face are huge.

How To Find Work You Love

Scott Dinsmore quit a job that made him miserable, and spent the next four years wondering how to find work that was joyful and meaningful. He shares what he learned in this deceptively simple talk about finding out what matters to you — and then getting started doing it.

Why you should listen

According to a Deloitte research study, over 80 per cent of people don’t enjoy their work.  Scott wanted to find out what it is that sets the twenty per cent apart: the people who do the passionate, world-changing work, that wake up inspired every day. Discover what he found out!

Sadly, in September 2015, three years after recording this TED talk, Scott was struck by a boulder as it tumbled down the 19,000-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro peak he was climbing  with his wife of five years as part of their adventure around the world. Scott was 33 when he died.

Why You Will Fail To Have A Great Career

In this funny and blunt talk, Larry Smith pulls no punches when he calls out the absurd excuses people invent when they fail to pursue their passions.

Why you should listen

Larry Smith is a professor of economics at University of Waterloo. A well-known storyteller and advocate for youth leadership, he has also mentored many of his students on start-up business management and career development. The most notable start-up he advised in its infancy is Research in Motion (RIM), maker of the BlackBerry.

Discussion about this blunt and challenging TED talk centres on what passion really means and costs but, as Carmine Gallo wrote in Forbes, what you will see here “in this TED Talk is essentially thirty years of Smith’s frustrations reaching a boiling point.” “Wasted talent is a waste I cannot stand,” and this talk is Smith’s response.

Challenging and – possibly – motivating too.

Career Development With Devex

Devex describes itself as the media platform for the global development community. For those in – or seeking entry to – that community Devex is a source of information of growing importance. Devex claims to have an audience of more than one million people engaged in the development sector, to have placed thousands of people into jobs through its important recruitment marketplace and to have contributed significantly to the sector’s business development through its role as an informed source of grant and contract opportunities.

Devex casts its net wide: it considers the development, health, humanitarian, and sustainability sector and professionals working within these fields to be part of its global network. There are now more than 900,000 registered members within this international development community – including development organisations, donor agencies, suppliers and aid workers. In all, Devex claims more than 1 million active users.

Using a range of tools Devex enables its user community to access a searchable database of over 700,000 professionals and a directory of more than 12,000 development organisations. It has become a leading source of information about projects being funded by agencies across the globe.

This is remarkable growth over a period of the 18 or so years since Raj Kumar, then a student at Harvard’s School of Government, converted the ideas behind Devex into a workable precursor as part of a student project. Kumar, now editor in chief of Devex, aims to provide for the development sector what Bloomberg and The Financial Times have for the financial markets: accurate, plentiful and searchable information.

For the professional engaged in their own career development Devex is a virtual ‘honey pot’. The clearing house of information on development projects provides the intelligence needed to anticipate where opportunities may exist in a few months time. Real time vacancy information pulls in the active job seeker, those coming to the end of existing contracts and aid professionals whose careers have stalled with their existing employers. Webinars on a range of career development topics (including networking, charting a global health career, STEM careers in the aid sector, etc.) provide added value for the serious career professional. A continually updated tender notification service offers leads for business development specialists, contractors and consultants.

Investment in international aid remains strong – the money in USAID’s budget was $15.4billion in 2018 rising to $39.3billion for fiscal 2019. Devex occupies a key role in staff sourcing and career development in this sector. Admittedly, Devex charges for certain premium services and prices access to more senior vacancies but, if you are in the aid sector or seeking to break into it your curriculum vitae should feature there and Devex should be a part of your career development toolkit.

Towards Digital Literacy?

Paul Gilster, in his 1997 book “Digital Literacydescribed digital literacy as the use and comprehension of information in the digital age. He also emphasised the importance of digital technologies as an “essential life skill”. Digital literacy is one of the core elements of digital citizenship. Digital literacy includes knowledge, skills, and behaviours involving the effective use of digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCs for purposes of communication, expression, collaboration and advocacy.

The growth in digital literacy needs to keep pace with the rapid acceleration in the population’s access to digital media. Recent research from Hootsuite and We Are Social tracks the explosive growth in Internet access and uptake to January 2017:

In “Headline” terms, the most startling findings of this collaborative, global research are that:

  • More than half the world’s population now uses a smartphone.
  • Almost two-thirds of the world’s population now has a mobile phone.
  • More than half of the world’s web traffic now comes from mobile phones.
  • More than half of all mobile connections around the world are now ‘broadband’.
  • More than one in five of the world’s population shopped online in the past 30 days

Internet use in Asia is poised to overtake the rest of the world. Asia has an estimated population of 4,148,177,672: 55.2% of the world’s population based on 2017 mid-year estimates[1]. Internet use data from  CNNIC[2], ITU[3], Facebook, and other trustworthy sources indicates that 1,938,075,631 Asians (or 46.7% of the population of Asia) were users at the end of June 2017.

It is no longer the case that the poorest countries will necessarily have populations without access to the Internet. If we take a deeper dive into the available data for just one country in Asia we can see the phenomenal rise in Internet access by comparison with other indicators. The nation of Cambodia was recently ranked[4] 106th in the world by reference to Gross Domestic Product. It is one of the poorest countries in Asia and long-term economic development remains a daunting challenge, inhibited by endemic corruption, limited human resources, high levels of income inequality, and poor job prospects. In 2012, approximately 2.66 million people lived on less than $1.20 per day, and 37% of Cambodian children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition. More than 50% of the population is less than 25 years old. The population lacks education and productive skills, particularly in the impoverished countryside, which also lacks basic infrastructure. However, notwithstanding all these challenges, 25.6% of the population of Cambodia have Internet access[5] and one quarter of the population of the country’s population are Facebook subscribers[6]. However,such figures serve only to obscure widespread variations in access: in the capital city, Phnom Penh, Internet upload speeds are commonly faster than those available in most of the UK whilst in much of rural Cambodia, by comparison, Internet access is simply an unmet aspiration. The danger of Cambodia remaining a country with deep digital access chasms is clear.

Whilst digital technologies have spread rapidly in much of the world, “digital dividends”— that is, the broader development benefits obtained from using these technologies — have lagged behind[7]. In many instances, digital technologies have boosted growth, expanded opportunities, and improved service delivery. Yet their aggregate impact has fallen short and is unevenly distributed. For digital technologies to benefit everyone everywhere requires closing the remaining digital divide, especially in Internet access. But greater digital adoption will not be enough. To get the most out of the digital revolution, countries also need to work on the “analogue complements”. One of the three most important of these complements concerns adapting workers’ skills to the demands of the new economy.

The non-profit sector was, arguably, first in the field of digital literacy education. The ECDL Foundation is a well-established[8] international, non-profit organisation dedicated to raising digital competence standards in the workforce, education and society. The Foundation’s Certification programmes, delivered through an active network in more than 100 countries, enable individuals and organisations to assess, build and certify their competence in the use of computers and digital tools to the globally recognised European Computer Driving Licence standard, known as the International Computer Driving Licence outside Europe. The ICDL is the world’s leading computer skills certification. To date more than 15 million people have engaged with the programme, about 2.5 million ICDL tests are taken annually in over 100 countries, in more than 40 languages worldwide, through a network of over 24,000 ECDL Accredited Test Centres (ATCs). The Foundation’s certification programmes are designed, validated, and approved by academics and industry experts from around the world. There is a continual development programme in place to ensure that the range of certification programmes remain in line with market needs and technological advancements. An Online Essentials Base Module[9] sets out essential concepts and skills relating to web browsing, effective information search, online communication and e-mail.

ECDL Foundation has also endorsed 14 targeted programmes[10], which are designed and created by other organisations for specific groups. These programmes often address specific digital literacy requirements or demands in a particular country, while still adhering to the high standard of quality in content and operation set by the Foundation. The Foundation also encourages and supports their national partners to provide digital literacy education to meet humanitarian and social needs. Here are two examples:

  • In autumn 2016, the Austrian Computer Society (OCG) realised that the refugee crisis demanded quick and un-bureaucratic action to help refugees and asylum seekers. Therefore, it launched the project, ‘OCG Cares’, aiming at providing those who had to leave their homes with ICT and language skills. After a strategic meeting of all stakeholders in December 2015, 22 refugees started their crossover courses in IT & German, with the aim to prepare for the ECDL Base certification tests by summer.
  • The Dzikwa Trust Fund, or simply Dzikwa for short, was established as a legal entity and began operations in Zimbabwe in September 2002. The underlying purpose of the society is to empower Zimbabwean orphans and give them a chance to lead a fulfilling life. It seeks to give the children long-term help, in their own community, in order to guarantee their basic education and general welfare. The ICDL project started in April 2015 and in August 2015, the first ICDL lessons and exams were taken.

The Mozilla Foundation, a Californian not-for-profit enterprise, is also committed to developing the ability of all to make use of the Internet. To that end they have developed and published, in English, a range of free learning activities[11] created by teachers, educators and technologists for individuals and groups of adults and teenagers. These include short, activity based, off line teaching and learning resources covering topics such as Internet Health, Web Literacy Basics, Privacy Basics: Protect Your Data at beginner level.

The importance of digital literacy is, of course, increasingly recognised by national governments. As Nagy K Hanna has written[12]: “Digital technologies have been transforming the global economy. Yet many countries have yet to experience the full developmental benefits of digital technologies, such as inclusive and sustainable growth, improved governance, and responsive service delivery. Given the magnitude of change in competitive advantage that digital technologies can confer on adopters, the risks of slow or poor adoption of these innovations can be dire for industries, governments, individuals, and nations.” Drawing on his significant humanitarian development experience, Hanna argues that one of the most important “analogue support mechanisms” that must be put in place to secure the benefits of digital transformation is “substantial investment in organisational capabilities, process innovation, and institutional learning. Best practice suggests that every dollar invested in ICT should be matched with a $4 or $5 investment in process improvement, training, change management, etc.”

In research undertaken for the Indian government, KPMG found that the number of Indian net surfers would rise by at least 50 million annually from 2014 to 2019. This equates to almost the entire population of South Africa gaining Internet access in each of these six years. On this basis KPMG confidently predict that India will have at least 560 million Internet users by the end of 2019. Without suitable training there is little likelihood that new users will be able to gain most benefit from access to the digital age so the government is funding specialist educational programmes through gram panchayats[13] (local elder councils).

The private sector is also active in education for digital literacy. Google’s “Digital Skills Programme for Africa” offers 89 courses through an online portal, and Google works with 14 training partners covering more than 20 African countries to offer face-to-face training. In March 2017, Google disclosed that it had trained one million Africans in digital skills in just eleven months. Recognising that digital literacy can drive economic development; Google has set itself new targets in 2017 including the provision of offline versions of its online training materials, increasingly in Hausa, Swahili and IsiZulu, to better reach individuals and businesses in low access areas where it is unable to hold physical training sessions.

The private sector is, of course, keenly aware that the growth in Internet access creates multiple potential markets. Microsoft’s digital literacy programme[14] aims to help the learner develop a fundamental understanding of computers. The courses equip the new user with the essential skills needed to begin computing with confidence, be more productive at home and at work, stay safe online, use technology to complement their lifestyle, and consider careers where they can put their skills to work. The five courses within the programme use examples and simulations from Windows 8 and Microsoft Office 2013.

Microsoft provides an Instructor’s Manual including ideas for adapting the digital literacy programme to different learning environments and for different learner needs. It includes sample syllabi, practice problems and exercises, and information to guide classroom discussions. It also covers classroom setup details including hardware, software, and Internet connection requirements and recommendations. The programme is certificated[15] on “an honour basis”, but without verification.

References

[1] Using figures from the United Nations – Population Division and local official sources.

[2] China Internet Network Information Center

[3] International Telecommunication Union

[4] CIA’s “World Factbook”

[5] According to the ITU (June 2017)

[6] Facebook

[7] According to the World Bank’s “World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends” published in May 2016. See: http://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/wdr2016

[8] In 1995, the Council of European Professional Informatics Societies (CEPIS) created a task force, supported by the European Commission through the ESPRIT research programme, to examine how to raise the levels of digital literacy throughout Europe. The new certification programme was launched as the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) in Sweden in August 1996.

[9] See: http://ecdl.org/about-ecdl/online-essentials

[10] See: http://ecdl.org/about-ecdl/endorsed-programmes

[11] See: https://learning.mozilla.org/en-US/activities

[12] See: http://blogs.worldbank.org/ic4d/how-can-developing-countries-make-most-digital-revolution and “Mastering Digital Transformation” (Emerald, 2016)

[13] Gram panchayats are the cornerstone of local self-government organisation in India.

[14] https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/DigitalLiteracy This is available currently in 13 languages including Arabic, English, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Simplified Chinese and Vietnamese.

[15] There is a 30-question multiple-choice assessment for each course that provides students with a personalised Learning Plan. Certification is intended for the learner alone and not as a verified attestation of competence for employment selection purposes.

Leadership: What We Know – Part 2

The world of job analysis was overturned in the 1970s when McClelland began using a competency focus to understand the requirements of a particular role or job. It wasn’t McClelland’s intention to generalise but the publication of a 1982 book by his colleague, Richard Boyatzis, led to an explosion of interest in managerial competency frameworks. In the UK, particularly, this facilitated the growth of the Management Charter Initiative and competency-based learning and development. Over decades these approaches have progressively influenced practice in, particularly, Australia, New Zealand and the development of craft, technical, apprenticeship and managerial development internationally.

In the management domain, a strong argument can be made that most competency frameworks have identified four clusters of capability. The first of these is concerned with intrapersonal skills and includes growing awareness of and the application of emotional intelligence, as we now know it. The second focus is on the interpersonal skills of relationship building and the third is concerned with business skills. Finally, it has become widely accepted that there is a fourth leadership skillset that concerns vision, strategy (both allied to and using the business skills mentioned earlier) and building and motivating an engaged, high-performing team of people. It is helpful to consider that this four-stage model is developmental. The development of intrapersonal skills typically takes place during the pre-teen years and may be followed by the application of these capabilities interpersonally in the late teens and beyond. Business understanding and competency may be more amenable to formal teaching and coaching, action learning and other experiential methods of development can be used, powerfully, to enable the association of the first, second and third focus areas. Finally, leadership skills may or may not be added to the individual’s toolkit. It has generally become accepted that this developmental model also represents a trainability continuum. The first cluster of intrapersonal capabilities is not highly trainable – their very nature often warrants highly individualised approaches to learning. The second cluster is also less easily trained and may require considerable investment in experiential learning, feedback and coaching. The third cluster certainly includes a body of knowledge that can be relatively easily defined and may include core professional understanding plus organisational and wider business expertise that can be sector-specific or related to the maturity, complexity, type and/or scale of the business. Here we see the curriculum of the typical MBA. Applied leadership skills frequently develop later and the design of appropriately engaging developmental experiences provides the opportunity for great innovation and creativity.

Organisations may apply important nuances to the four clusters. One recent global client wanted to highlight the importance of leaders demonstrating, in their early careers, that they are ‘personally well-functioning’ and able to ‘operate effectively and to adapt to challenge, ambiguity and change’. The second cluster may be expressed in terms of the individual’s ability to make things happen through others by applying their interpersonal capabilities: outcomes rather than latent behavioural skills may be most evident in the descriptions of these competences.

Business skills need to be expressed in terms that are easily understood in the leader’s sector and, whilst there is some ongoing public and private sector business practice convergence, these two organisational spheres are clearly not the same in every respect. Similarities and differences need to be captured in descriptions of competences that resonate with the users of any framework of competences.

The extent to which the fourth cluster will have a strong future orientation will depend upon a number of factors including the maturity of the sector and the various changing and challenging opportunities and constraints the organisation faces.

Whilst the nuances are important, there is little evidence to suggest that the fourfold taxonomy of competences is less than comprehensive or has been superseded. When,  in 2001, Jim Collins published his groundbreaking book, “Good To Great”, a rare example of a business book based on actual research, Collins –  and his team – were able to conclude that leaders that took charge and improved organisational performance scored well on the four competences outlined above and had two other qualities. First, they were modest and humble, as opposed to self-dramatizing and self-promoting and, second, they were phenomenally persistent.

A question arises concerning the way in which leaders influence organisational performance. (They certainly do so: Joyce, Nohria and Roberson (2003) showed that CEOs account for about 14% of the variance in firm performance.) Leaders appear, through their personality, to influence the culture and the dynamics of their senior teams.

It was long thought that managerial incompetence was largely about managers not having the “right stuff”. Recent research shows that it is more to do with managers having the “wrong stuff”: some kind of “personality defect”. Leslie and Van Velsor (1996) summarised the results of reputable research and found that failed managers typically had poor interpersonal skills (they were insensitive, arrogant, cold, aloof and overly ambitious); they were unable to get work done (because they betrayed trust or didn’t follow through, for example); they were unable to build a team and they were unable to make a transition following a promotion. The associations with the four clusters are very clear.

References

Boyatzis, Richard E., “The Competent Manager: A Model for Effective Performance” Wiley, ISBN: 978-0-471-09031-1

Collins, Jim C, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t”, William Collins, October 2001, ISBN: 978-0-06-662099-2

Nohria, Nitin, William F. Joyce, and Bruce Roberson. “What Really Works.” Harvard Business Review 81, no. 7 (July 2003).

Leslie, J.B. and Van Velsor, E. (1996). A look at derailment today: North America and Europe. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

Leadership: What We Know – Part 1


The British General Election campaign in May 2017 was dominated by discussion about the character of the leadership ‘offer’ being made by party leaders May and Corbyn. May’s commitment was to provide “strong and stable leadership”, whilst Corbyn was widely associated with a more collegiate style of leadership. This projection of a promised brand of leadership is not uncommon in election campaigns but it tends to beg the question: “what exactly do we know about leadership?

The reality is that, despite the importance of the subject, we securely know relatively little about it and many opposing positions can be honestly taken on leadership effectiveness. This is problematic for at least two reasons. First, because leadership is the key to organisational effectiveness, with good leadership, organisations effectively and efficiently deliver what is needed and those within them enjoy well being and a sense of aligned engagement. Second, and more importantly from a moral and ethical perspective, bad leaders create havoc and misery that sometimes blights generations and entire countries for years.

The complexity of the relationship between leaders and their followers is certainly one reason for our general lack of secure knowledge. It is also true that mountains of paper have been piled up and many writers have drained deep wells of ink with scant regard for evidence and, sometimes, an overwhelming  desire to sell yet another “airport book”. Even where evidence-based studies have been completed with rigour, over a period that warrants our attention, it has often been perfectly possible to draw divergent conclusions about what was really happening in the research!

Leadership does not, of course, occur in a vacuum. There are those who would argue that leadership in society generally is of less consequence than other forces of greater magnitude and influence than human control. Opposing this view would be those who would argue that, at important junctures in history, human leadership emerges and does indeed result in critical change.

Taking this second view as a starting point we can begin to understand the likely importance of two aspects of human personality. The first concerns how the individual sees themselves (their ‘identity’) and the second how others see the individual. Various tools commonly used in leadership development have these twin perceptions at their heart. 360° feedback, done well, effectively brings together these perceptions; a well managed Development Centre achieves more with greater reliability and the Johari window is a tool that brings together these twin perceptions.

A person’s ‘identity’ is hard to identify and work with. Recent reports suggest that the analysis of social media data combined with other aspects of the ‘electronic fingerprint’ being left by many people can provide clues to how a person sees themselves. The potential misuse of accumulated data of this type is clearly evident.

Reputation, on the other hand, can be examined in a range of ways. Generally, assessments will distinguish between impressions created when an individual is at their best and an alternative and related impression created when that same individual is at their worst. Leaders with well-developed social skills will frequently be adept at masking the dark side impressions. However, the ability to keep the mask on over a sustained period is rare and our ‘dark side’ tendencies typically emerge over time. Trust is often eroded in line with the mask slipping and people becoming more aware of the darker side of an individual. The gateway to many opportunities in life is reputation, as many leaders explicitly or implicitly recognise.

Simple frequency analysis has gradually allowed us to understand which leadership characteristics (we might dub them ‘leadership virtues’) are most important to the led. In order of importance they are: integrity, decisiveness, competence and vision. Because integrity is the most important virtue it follows that the single most important question we can ask of potential leaders is this: “Can we trust you not to abuse the privilege of authority?”

A significant meta-analysis shows that from trust in leadership there springs improved job performance; job satisfaction and organisational commitment (Dirks and Ferrin, 2002).

As a counterweight to the focus on the individual leader and their personality, we also need to be aware of the context within which leadership is exercised. Those people that rise to the top of a university are likely to be characterised by a different cluster of talents, capabilities and personality traits than those that are in charge of a major league football club, for example. They may or may not have a talent for leadership. However, whilst leadership is circumstantial, Alberto Silva (2014) has asserted that “… groups choose as leaders only those people who they believe to have leadership skills, and people that do not possess leadership qualities will not be considered as leaders by any group in any circumstance.” It seems to be true that the characteristics associated with effective leadership are actually surprisingly similar across industries and cultures.

Hogan and Kaiser noted, in 2005, that leadership has tended to be defined in terms of influence exerted or in relation to the ratings given by more senior leaders. Hogan and Kaiser take the view that the litmus test of leadership should be this: does this person demonstrate that they build and maintain a group that performs well relative to its competition?

So, two key leadership questions emerging are these:

Can we trust this person not to abuse the privilege of authority?

Has this this person demonstrated that they will build and maintain a group that performs well relative to its competition? Alternatively*: Do we have enough evidence to show that they will build and maintain a group that will perform well relative to its competition?

*The second alternative question above may appear difficult to use. If this is the case, and the person being considered has no evident track record in this area, a good replacement question is this: “Does this person have basic knowledge about how to take a group of people and turn them into a high performing team?” Surprisingly, perhaps, this turns out to be a very effective differentiator!

Does talent management and leadership development where you are pay attention to these key questions?

 

References

Dirks KT, Ferrin DL., ” Trust in leadership: meta-analytic findings and implications for research and practice”. Journal of Appl Psychol. August 2002, 87(4): 611-28.

Hogan, Robert; Kaiser, Robert B. “What We Know About Leadership”, Review of General Psychology, Vol 9(2), Jun 2005, 169-180.

Silva A, “What Do We Really Know About Leadership?”. Journal of Business Studies Quarterly 2014, Volume 5, Number 4.

Information sharing, pathos and apologies

It is widely believed that leaders should share information with those they lead. The arguments to support this as ‘best practice’ draw widely on studies of staff engagement. These repeatedly show that, by explaining the connection between employees’ individual jobs and the organisation, leaders and managers can greatly increase employee satisfaction with their day-to-day work. The commitment to communication also rests on the belief that, whilst trust evolves, ebbs and flows it is essential to staff engagement and motivation. For leaders and managers, the evidence shows that employees who trust them are most likely to follow through on goals set. Trustworthy leaders and managers are also more likely to get a flow of honest feedback on the challenges their staff face: which is invaluable.

At the strategic level, as Alkhafaji stated (1997), “no matter how brilliant the strategy may be, unless the business team understands and accepts it, performance will suffer.”

The “terms” of understanding and acceptance depend on leaders being able to communicate relevant information credibly. Leaders typically base their own judgements on both hard data and softer information. Many will take the view that the data is easier to communicate than the softer information. Of course, what is easier for one leader to accomplish may be more challenging for another and track records certainly play a part in creating the foundations for each call to action. Agreeing, perhaps instinctively, with Aristotle, many leaders I have worked with know that credibility depends upon a rather subtle demonstration of competence, good intention and empathy.

Modern business communication has tended to elevate the attention paid to what Aristotle terms “logos”. This is often, and to a great extent rightly, associated with logic, the hard data and the apparent proofs of our case. Business leaders, perhaps because they are business leaders, will often avoid paying attention to “pathos” in their communication. However, as we will see, this failure to consider the emotional impact of communication can have catastrophic impact on how it is received and responded to. More generally,  and perhaps through a fear of being seen to be overly emotional, much business communication appears leaden, stilted and impassive: not the tinder that lights fires of commitment as Henry V did on the Feast of St Crispian. (As Richard Olivier explains so eloquently in his book “Inspirational Leadership”, 2007, ISBN: 978 1 905879 00 7).

The dangers of a failure to attend to engage emotionally with people are well illustrated by the response of the CEO of United Airlines to an airline-overbooking situation on April 9, 2017. This resulted in a fare-paying passenger being dragged bodily off an internal US flight. When the gruesome video footage went viral and the CEO, who had previously been named U.S. Communicator of the Year, failed to apologise he was widely criticised. In avoiding emotional response and failing to give a profound and heartfelt apology for the terrible manner in which the passenger had been treated on a United plane the CEO stoked fear. He did not appear to understand or to respond to the fact that relationships between United, its public, investors and actual and potential passengers were breaking down. His initial communication did not include an effective apology that would right these collapsing relationships. He did appreciate that passengers felt unsafe at the hands of United. Later attempts to correct the impression given were seen as too little and too late.

An example of a generally well-judged communication style that combined logic and emotional intelligence comes from Steve Jobs. Jobs appeared to completely understand the need to marry logos and pathos when sharing information with Apple’s market. His style was typically as calm, enthusiastic, and confident when launching high stake products as others might be in their living room. The author and Associate Professor of Management Garr Reynolds put it this way: “His style is conversational and his visuals are in perfect sync with his words. […] He is friendly, comfortable and confident (which makes others feel relaxed), and he exudes a level of passion and enthusiasm that is engaging without going over the top.” Sometimes this was no mean feat when the subject matter might have been a little dry!

In making the judgement call about the use of the hard data and the soft information, Blanes I Vidal and Moller (2007), call attention to the importance of the leader’s belief about the accuracy of the soft information available. When a leader strongly believes (and is self-confident about) her/his judgement about the available soft information she/he is more likely to share it and this, Vidal and Moller show, can increase the organisation’s surplus.

Conversely, Blanes I Vidal and Moller’s work suggests that information sharing can help to reduce the autocratic predisposition of self-confident leaders. Information sharing can help organisations to avoid overconfidence-driven courses of action. This happens because, when workers have access to information, for example about a possible merger, they are able to form opinions about its potential viability. Because this opinion affects their motivation, the leader can find themselves effectively constrained from pursuing courses of action that are unduly based on her/his ‘gut feeling’ or instincts.

This is not what is generally thought of when “the flow of honest feedback to the CEO” is being discussed but it can certainly be powerful.

References

Alkhafaji, A.F., 1997, Strategic Management: Formulation, Implementation and Control in a Dynamic Environment, New York: Haworth Press.

Blanes I Vidal, J., and M. Moller. 2007. “When Should Leaders Share Information with their Subordinates?” Journal of Economics and Management Strategy, 16, pp. 251-283.