Articles & Resources

Monday February 4, 2013.  A regular occurrence in many organisations is the exit of a company’s best and brightest young talent in response to business owners waiting far too long to identify, nurture and develop future leaders said founder and principal of international leadership training organisation Kameleons – developing leaders, Mr. Michael Peiniger.

By the time most businesses consider leadership development training, the prospective future manager has left or (a potentially worse scenario) has stayed having developed poor communication skills, values and behaviours that have become ingrained and almost impossible to redress. A former senior officer in the Australian Air Force, Michael Peiniger says the military has understood for centuries the need to develop leadership early in a career. Peiniger says “Basic military training is far more than the movie stereotype of push-ups, yelling and polishing shoes.”

“It is the opportunity to introduce and develop values, traits, conduct and skills that will be utilised for an entire career.  Values such as integrity, teamwork and responsibility (similar to values of most businesses) are more than just words.  They are discussed, broken down, reinforced through behaviours and practiced constantly.” The same applies to leadership training.  For new management appointees to meet the leadership expectations placed upon them, their first leadership experience can’t coincide with the appointment.  It has to be early in their career.

Michael Peiniger continued, “Some of the best and most respected leaders in the world attest to learning to lead from experience – including the making of mistakes and learning from those events.  If young future leaders aren’t given the chance to discover these skills in their early years they will be doomed to make big mistakes (involving more money, people and responsibility) later in their careers.”

Michael Peiniger recommends businesses adopt 5 approaches to develop their leadership talent early:

1. Praise good behaviour and correct poor performance  

New and junior staff are highly receptive when they join an organisation and if their behaviour is ignored, the opportunity to mould good behaviour and practices is lost. In many companies, new staff members are paired with a ‘buddy’ to help them gain knowledge and adopt appropriate work related skills more quickly than learning on their own. By extending the program into a long term mentoring relationship that provides feedback and guidance, the ongoing benefits include greater camaraderie, confidence, realization of potential and increased productivity and job satisfaction.

2. Identify leadership potential early

Leadership should not be a skill that is ‘added on’ after someone has demonstrated say five years proficiency in a technical specific role.  It should be in core tasks as early as possible, so that expectations of responsibility become a normal part of doing business. In addition, today’s young people are not prepared to wait five years for an opportunity to lead.  They want to do it now. The notion that ‘you did your apprenticeship’ many years ago and then attempt to force this onto today’s Gen Y will only result in their early exit.  

Michael Peiniger says, “It’s easy to identify those members of staff that relish the extra responsibility from leadership development programs.  If you don’t recognize it early enough, another company will.”

3. Provide leadership opportunities

There is no point identifying your leadership talent and then not getting them to do anything.  This could be simple tasks like running a meeting, planning a project; or a larger undertaking such as running a small team. The important ingredient is guidance – and it is where business differs from the military dramatically. Leadership roles within the military that require management of staff and budgetary responsibility are provided extensively and often.  Candidates are assisted by the guidance and experience of senior personnel that provide a ‘well of expertise’ to draw upon when situations become difficult or complex.

4. Provide leadership skills training and build relationships

Again reflecting on his military background, Michael Peiniger says that even after identifying talent and providing opportunity, the military requires all leaders to continue their leadership training as they progress through the ranks. Leadership training provides not only access to learn new skills and experience best practice, it also provides an opportunity for leaders to network with their peers and build relationships. “The peer network is one of the most underrated in business today,” said Michael Peiniger. “In my military career, it was my peers that I often turned to for advice, help and suggestions (not my boss) as they were the most effective sounding board with insight into the issues being confronted.” Your Manager and staff can be a great help, but they also judge you at the same time. Peers are part of your team, not competition.

5. Train for war, not for peace

“Most businesses train for peace, whereas the military trains for war.  In addition, the majority of business leadership training is undertaken when times are good and there is no pressure on sales, revenue, workloads, personnel and resources,” observes Michael Peiniger. “Immediately, times become tough, the response of far too many business owners is to disarm (cease training and leadership development activities immediately) and retreat, leaving their troops on the front line with little support and guidance to deal with increased competitor focus and threats to market share.” Michael Peiniger doesn’t suggest business should only train when times are bad, but they should train for all situations as the real return to training and developing the skills of a company’s leaders is in the difficult times. By not maintaining training and leadership activities during the hard times, businesses forego an opportunity to prepare the company’s future leaders with the experience needed to address similar situations in the future.

“Business cycles of boom and bust are well-known and yet businesses continue to get caught off guard when the answer to a company’s long-term success, viability and resilience is within.”

“By identifying a company’s future leaders early and then training, nurturing, building and challenging their skills with development and mentoring programs – an internal environment is created that builds a store of leadership talent with attributes to address the economic and marketplace challenges of the future,” concluded Michael Peiniger.

 

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Monday April 29, 2013.

Reflecting on the Australian Cricket team last month when four players were suspended for not doing their homework, Founder and Principal of Kameleons – developing leaders, Michael Peiniger said the event continues to resonate as a demonstration of the need for leaders to stand firm and make tough decisions in the face of immense criticism and pressure.

While there were many former cricketing greats that took to the media to criticise the decision to suspend the players, Peiniger applauded the coach and captain Michael Clarke for their ‘line in the sand’.

It is acknowledged that sport helps young people to develop many significant traits such as the importance of teamwork, good communication, striving to achieve goals, leadership, respecting authority and the ability to accept winning and losing with equal grace and maturity. In later life, these fundamental attributes are applied in adult life and particularly in business.

“While many people are reluctant to accept the link between sport and business there are indeed lessons to be learnt. Especially in relation to leaders being called upon to make the tough decisions and this is one of the biggest challenges and defining attributes of leadership,” said Michael Peiniger.

“Whether in business or sport, leaders are judged by their ability to make the difficult decisions because they are needed to grow the business, attain its goals and objectives or simply survive.”

It is well recognized that critical decisions put leaders to the test.

In tumultuous times, true leaders make tough choices with courage and audacity. Others cannot cope with the difficulty and uncertainty so they remain indecisive, and in business, their competitors win their customers and market share.

If any group is going to try and achieve success and become a high performing team, then an appropriate behaviour standard not only has to be agreed and set, it also needs to be maintained.

Not enforcing a standard doesn’t make the leader a better friend, a better teammate or a better captain – it just makes both the leader and team weaker.

Michael Peiniger continued, “In fact, considering the situation that was faced by the Australian Cricket team last month and the lessons that are applicable in most work places – who wants to be lead or work with a team member that thinks that the rules don’t apply to them?”

Michael Peiniger believes there are four components to creating a standard for a team:

  1. Clearly identify the behaviour standard to set

  2. As the leader, ensure you are meeting the standard yourself

  3. Communicate the standard to all team members, ensuring they

    understand the ‘why’, and

  4. Enforce the standard

“When it comes to leadership standards, the effort is in the enforcing, not the setting,” added Michael Peiniger.

When a leader is required to enforce a standard, there are a number of things that they need to adhere to.

  1. The standard being enforced must be clearly articulated and agreed to by the team.

  2. The person breaking the standard knew exactly what was required.

  3. The person breaking the standard knew exactly what the consequences

    would be.

  4. What was done was for the good of the team, and in the long run, for the

    individual as well.

Business leaders and managers at all levels are faced with making difficult decisions on a regular basis. This is especially true in today's economic environment.

Michael Peiniger has studied the practice of leadership and the process leaders (both good and bad) go though in making the ‘tough call.’

Irrespective of whether leaders make their decisions based on emotion, impulse or extensive facts and data, the best leaders realise that tough decisions are made for the good of the team in the long term.

The best leaders are those that are willing to face temporary unpopularity to maintain and enforce a standard. The truth is, most people placed in leadership positions aren’t willing to face that prospect, letting team members break standards and rules in an attempt to stay popular.

Michael Peiniger concluded, “The making of tough decisions is the essence of leadership and leaders are entrusted with the responsibility by employers, customers, employees (the individuals that comprise the Australian Cricket team) to do ‘the right thing’!”

“The right thing might mean terminating an employee, restructuring an organisation, implementing a program, or simply telling someone ‘No’. The leader that does not make the right decision and act on it will lose all credibility and trust.” 

 

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leadershipStudents that are appointed to the role of School or House Captain often fall into two categories. There are those students who perform their roles incredibly well, impressing both their teachers, peers and family alike with leadership ability beyond their years. Others can look completely out of their depth, struggling to meet expectations while having a negative effect on School work and other aspects of life.

By the time most Schools consider leadership or teamwork development, the prospective School or House Captain has had years developing communication skills, values and behaviours that could be poor, and worse, have become ingrained and difficult to redress.

As a former senior officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, I know that the military has understood for centuries the need to develop leadership early in a career. There is far more to basic military training than the movie stereotype of push-ups, yelling and polishing shoes! It is the opportunity to introduce and develop values, traits, conduct and skills that will be utilised for an entire career.  Values such as integrity, teamwork and responsibility (similar to values of most businesses and expected at most Schools) are more than just words.  They are discussed, broken down, reinforced through behaviours and practiced constantly.

The same applies to leadership training in Schools.  For new Captains to meet the leadership expectations placed upon them, their first leadership experience can’t coincide with their appointment at the start of the year.  It has to be earlier in their School days, starting from the moment they first enter the School grounds for the first time.

Some of the best and most respected leaders in the world attest to learning to lead from experience – including the making of mistakes and learning from those events.  If young future leaders aren’t given the chance to discover these skills in their early years they will be doomed to make big mistakes (involving more money, people and responsibility) later in life.

To advance leadership skills within Schools, we recommend adopting 5 approaches to develop leadership talent:

 

1. Praise good behaviour and correct poor performance 

This is not new – teachers have been praising poor performance and recognising good performance for a long time. What is often not understood by students is why their performance was good or bad – and the resultant link to good or poor leadership behaviours. Many students can’t make the link between messing around with their mates and the poor example this can set for junior students. Nor will they understand why their presentation at a School assembly was so good. Was it their voice projection or their confidence in addressing questions from their peers? Was it their reasoned argument or their confident body language through use of hand gestures? Providing specific feedback that is linked to specific behaviours and values is essential for developing leadership talent.

 

2. Identify leadership potential early

Leadership should not be a skill that is ‘added on’ after a student has completed 5 years of Schooling.  It should be in core tasks as early as possible, so that expectations of responsibility become a normal part of doing business. The responsibility of bringing the right uniform, completing homework on time and to the correct standard can be linked specifically to leadership and teamwork behaviours. It’s easy to identify those students that relish or thrive on the extra responsibility from leadership opportunities or being thrust into the role of guiding others.  Looking for potential leaders of a School can start several years before the final year.

 

3. Provide leadership opportunities.

There is no point identifying your leadership talent and then not getting them to do anything.  This could be simple tasks like running a meeting, planning a project, running an assembly or guiding students in younger years.

While many Schools provide these opportunities, many miss the opportunity to provide guidance and feedback following these activities – in particular what specific actions were done well and what needs improvement. It can often be months before that same student has the opportunity to undertake the same event again and learn from the experience. We all get better with practice, and tracking a students leadership opportunities, including their triumphs and their areas of improvement, is essential to becoming a better leader.

 

4. Provide leadership skills training and build relationships

If I again reflecting on my time in the military background, it was only after I left that I have realised the military expected leaders to continue their leadership training constantly as they progress through the ranks. Leadership training provides not only access to learn new skills and experience best practice, it also provides an opportunity for student leaders to work with their peers and build relationships. The peer network is one of the most underrated in Schools. Whether it be on the sporting field, in the classroom or during leadership activities, students are more than capable to discuss what traits were more or less effective when reflecting on their and their peers performance.

In my military career, it was my peers that I often turned to for advice, help and suggestions (not my boss), as they were the most effective sounding board with insight into the issues being confronted. The same applies at School. When students are provided a platform and opportunity to help each others growth through feedback and formal channels, there is less worry about negative feedback provided through more unregulated back channels (social media, webchat, Facebook etc)

 

5. Train for war, not for peace

Please excuse the military reference, but it is highly applicable for training leadership in Schools. From my experience, most Schools attempt to train leaders for peace, whereas the military trains for war.  In addition, the majority of school leadership and teamwork training is undertaken when the calendar is easier and there is no pressure from exams, NAPLAN test and extra-curricula activities.

I am not suggesting that Schools should add on leadership training in peak periods, but students should be prepared to lead in all situations, including when things get busy and exams loom.  This requires both effort and guidance, but the real return to training and developing the skills of a School’s leaders is in the difficult times. By not maintaining training and leadership activities during the hard times, School’s forego an opportunity to prepare their future leaders with the experience needed to address similar situations later down the track.

By identifying a School’s future leaders early and then training, nurturing, building and challenging their skills with development and mentoring programs – an internal environment is created that builds a store of leadership talent with attributes to address the leadership challenges of the School’s future. You might even be surprised by the results.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013 00:30

Are children better leaders than adults?

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iStock 000008297165SmallWe all assume that adults know more than children – language, mathematics, science, general knowledge. But in the art and science of leadership, children demonstrate more natural leadership traits than adults.

This may come as a surprise to teachers and educators, particularly those that have been frustrated (as we have!) by a lack of listening skills, constant questions and numerous examples of poor teamwork from students. To our surprise, through a series of experiential leadership activities (conducted with more than 2500 adults and more than 1500 children), we have found five ways in which children consistently demonstrate better leadership and team development skills than adults. These areas are: focussing on the end goal, problem solving, adapting to change, acceptance of difference and willingness to learn.

 

1.             Beginning with the end in mind. 

 

A term coined by Stephen Cover (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), it refers to the ability to look at the big picture and not get bogged down with minor details.

In the marshmallow challenge (www.marshmallowchallenge.com), participants are asked to build a marshmallow tower using spaghetti and tape in 18 minutes, the aim of which is to make the tallest tower that can support a marshmallow. The difference between how adults and children approach this activity couldn’t be more different. Adults discuss their options, on occasion do some minor planning, then begin building their tower. A large amount of effort is focused on ensuring that everyone has a role and that everyone is happy. On average, adult teams don’t even touch the marshmallow until 15 minutes into the activity, often resulting in a last minute panic (resembling some workplaces?). Children on the other hand, begin with the simple tenant of building a tower to support a marshmallow. The marshmallow becomes central to their tower, and they build their tower always with the marshmallow in mind. Although adults build taller towers (thank goodness!), their rate of success (achieving a successful tower) is much less than children. Adults are all or nothing – children focus on completion and meeting the requirements of the task at hand and beginning with the end in mind.

It is interesting to note that from our experience, teenagers demonstrate traits more like adults, and are less successful at the activity than younger children.

 

2.            Problem Solving

 

In experiential leadership activities, children are better at providing ideas and creating options than adults. While adults can often produce the best ideas, more often than not they languish in the volume of ideas that are provided for the group and the leader. Adults are also far more likely to focus on one idea and drive this to execution, rather than evaluating a larger number of options. Children on the other hand, come up with a large range of ideas, and keep coming up with ideas after a good option has been determined. They demonstrate a willingness to try new things, and keep trying when initial ideas do not bear fruit. While children may not come up with the best option for completing a task, they have a greater array of ideas from which to make a decision.

 

3.            Adaption to Change

 

In the experiential activity Invisible Maze, children consistently demonstrate a far greater ability to recognize and adapt to change than adults. The activity requires participants to navigate their way across an 8 x 8 checkerboard, with an invisible route through the maze determined via trial and error of the team. After a period of 10 minutes, the route through the maze is changed (without participant knowledge), forcing the team to react and adapt to the new requirements. On average, it takes children 3 attempts (the highest amount being 7) at the changed maze before they adapt to the new requirements and continue with the task. Although some children exhibit frustration at the change, the process of change is mostly positive, most likely relating to their greater ability to problem solve. Adults on the other hand take an average of 7 attempts (the highest amount being 13) to successfully adapt to the new maze. The range of emotional response from adults is also vastly different to children.  Emotions such as frustration, anger, resentment, aloofness and irritation accompany an adult groups response to change, as well as the usual acceptance.

 

We postulate that a child’s ability to adapt to change so readily has to do with the fact that they have a low locus of control over many aspects of their lives (school, meals, sleep times etc).  As a rule, they are more accustomed to having to adapt to the changes of teachers and parents without being consulted. Adults on the other hand have a large locus of control over most aspects of their lives. Where they work, when they eat/sleep and how they plan their day is in the control of most adults. When a decision is made without their knowledge or input, they are far less prepared to accept this than children.

 

4.             Acceptance of both Difference and Weakness

 

Most of the experiential activities used with both adults and children have a requirement for (non-taxing) physical activity. When groups are briefed on these activities, no reference is made to people with injuries or pre-existing conditions, or to what people are required to wear. It is expected that members of the team will work out the best way for all members of the team to complete the activity. Once again, children meet this requirement more effectively than adults. More often than not, children faced with a team member with a physical impairment or injury, will adapt their method of completion to include the injured person. Additional ideas will be sought and processes changed (without complaint) to include all of the members of the team. Children appear quite ready to accept the inherent differences within their teams and recognise that team members bring different strengths and weaknesses to the team.

When adults are faced with an activity that might put one or more of the members of the team in an uncomfortable position (restricted clothing, high heels, physical size or impairment etc), they are more likely to seek an exception from the activity than change their plan for completion. Members who have some form of limitation in their ability to complete tasks feel this keenly, as the team more often than not does not try to adapt plans to cater to all abilities. While this is not always the case, adults are far less likely than children to cater to physical / emotional difference or weakness from members of the team.

 

5.             Willingness to Learn

 

In their ability to listen and their willingness to learn (both from others and from their own mistakes) children far exceed adults in ability. Children demonstrate an ability to listen fully to experiential activity briefs, consider their options, and then ask questions to clarify any ambiguity regarding instructions. If anything, children demonstrate this ability to excess, often asking more questions than they need before they are sure they can complete a task. During an activity debrief, children are far more willing to discuss the areas in which they needed to improve, as well as recognise the areas in which they did well.

 

During briefs, adults are less likely to listen effectively to instructions, often only half-listening to the latter half of a brief as they begin to plan / discuss their first ideas. Comments such as ‘I have done this before’ or ‘This should be easy’ abound, with talking rather than listening being the main focus of communication. Instructions and rules often have to be repeated because they were not listened effectively to the first brief. Although adults are quite effective at discussing the strengths of their approach to a task, they are more likely to be reticent on discussing areas for improvement.

 

Imagine the Difference

 

Imagine how much more effective our leaders would be if they:

 

1.            Focussed on end requirements rather than on less important detail,

2.            Listened to all options to solve a problem and evaluated on merits,

3.            Recognised changes in the workplace and skillfully adapted both their behaviour and influenced the behaviour of their team,

4.            Accepted both the strengths and limitations of team members equally, and

5.            Demonstrated a willingness to learn from successes and mistakes (both from themselves and their people).

 

Seeking inspirational leadership requires us to look no further than the School playground. Examples of great leadership are demonstrated every day, we just have to have the eyes to see them and the desire to learn from them.

Thursday, 06 June 2013 01:04

L&D Forum - 31 May 2013

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LandD Forum 31 May 13
A slighter smaller than expected (but none the less enthusiastic) group of L&D Managers gathered at Casa& Bottega at 2pm on Friday 31st May 13 to discuss 'What have you seen / used in your business to become more efficient & effective?'

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