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Emma Littmoden

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How do we get senior leaders engaged with development training?


This article was written by Emma Littmoden, a partner at leadership programme provider The Living Leader.

"We have an excellent programme of development training for all our managers throughout the company. Generally attendance is widespread and the feedback is really positive, but we are having a real struggle to get any of our senior managers involved and our leadership team do not believe that they need it. Actually, the opposite is true. Have you any thoughts about how we can help them see that attending will benefit them?"

The above challenge was shared by an HR Director at the recent HR Directors Summit event in Birmingham and has been a frequent frustration for many companies over the years.  As well as the obvious disappointment that the senior team are actively missing out on valuable personal development, it also sends some conflicting messages to the rest of the business.

Firstly, ‘if this isn’t valued sufficiently by our bosses, why would we waste time attending?’ Secondly, ‘if I invest the time and energy to change my behaviours, how difficult will it be to stick with my new approach if my boss isn’t supportive?’

Commonly when we want to create change, we focus heavily on the systems and processes that will drive it. Whilst these are clearly important, they are only part of the equation. Often, people will see the logic for the change, but emotionally they are uncomfortable about the impact for them personally and, rather than embracing and working with the new systems, they tend to follow them to the bare minimum. This means that the pace of change is slow, frequently resulting in organisations putting in additional processes to drive faster results.

So, if we are looking for really effective change in our organisations, it can only be brought about in a sustained and successful manner with the engagement of everyone in the business. This means all of us working towards a common goal and also ‘speaking a common language’. When everyone participates in the same personal development programme, this is a fundamental step in creating a shared language and a sense that we are all a vital part of the future. If the senior team refuse to participate, then the message that may well resonate for everyone else is that there is no value in this common goal or language.

Additionally, why would our senior leaders believe that they are so much more developed than others when it comes to human interaction that they cannot learn valuable insights into how their behaviours impact their own and others’ performance?

“If you ask me what I have come to do in this world, I who am an artist, I will reply: I am here to live my life out loud.” — Émile Zola

The time has come for everyone in our organisations to live their leadership out loud in order to create the thriving and inclusive culture that will build for the future. Everything we do sends a message to others, so if your leaders want to increase levels of engagement and involvement from their entire workforce, the ripple needs to start from the top. When they demonstrate that the level of training that they are prepared to invest in for everyone is also something they personally value, the buy in to the message and the willingness to take a risk and make changes to our behaviours is likely to significantly increase.

Gandhi, when asked how he intended to impart his message to people, said, ‘my life is my message’. Senior leaders need to live their leadership as their message so that every employee feels the value of personal development and begins to see how they can make a lasting difference in their workplace.


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