Why High Performance Leadership?

Cranfield School of Management

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Why "High Performance Leadership"?

There is a vast quantity of recent management literature on the subject of leadership, which begs the obvious question: why?

It is clear that when societies, cultures, industries and markets are undergoing a period of unprecedented change, change that is both extensive and profound and when traditional role models and institutions are being challenged and found wanting, we look for new forms of leadership.
Current management theories of leadership can be classified in several ways, among which are:

  • Attribute theories, which attempt to identify core values and behaviour patterns that typify successful leaders, for example Stephen Covey (`Seven Habits of Successful Leaders`) and Jim Collins (`Good To Great`)
  • Developmental theories, which look at the formative experiences of leaders and attempt to draw conclusions about the suitability of those experiences, for example Warren Bennis (`Geeks & Geezers`)
  • Contingent theories, which seek to identify the leadership requirements of particular organisations, industries or institutions, or situations, for example Henry Minzberg (`The Quiet Leader`).

A common trait among these methods of examining and defining leadership is their focus on deriving `lowest common denominators`, on identifying the commonalities in leadership. We feel that this is a fundamental mistake as it fails to respect the unique potential that is the individual, and encourages managers to try and `lead by numbers`. This only works up to a point, and usually that point is reached where exceptional and sustained performance is required.
Leadership is also widely examined in the context of organisational activities, such as `strategic leadership`, `market leadership`, `team leadership` and so on. This approach also has the effect of
`de-personalising` leadership, to the effect "anyone who understands the context can lead this organisation".

Leadership diagram

In truth, these factors interact in the dynamic model shown above: the Business Environment sets requirements for strategic or market leadership ("what needs to be done"), the Organisation sets parameters for possible action ("how it can be done") and Individuals access their potential to do it. It is the individual who inputs the energy required to drive the organisation within the business environment, whose behaviours determine whether the organisation keeps to its stated values, whose collective and individual creativity and innovation determine its capacity to regenerate within the context of a changing environment. A person-centred view of leadership also accepts that leadership is a way of being rather than a position - and can come from below as much from above within the organisation.
`High Performance Leadership` sets criteria which reflect business and organisational demands - it assumes exceptional performance standards, achieved over time and under pressure. This is taken as the starting point for a personal development process that tests the individual`s capacity to develop a unique, authentic and robust leadership style. We call the process `The Leader`s Journey`, because it uses the metaphor of a journey to take delegates on a voyage of discovery through their own leadership landscape.
The programme draws extensively on concepts of Jungian psychology related to the persona and shadow, and mythical archetypes as a means of accessing unconscious potential via the imagination. In its approach and methods the programme is based on the following core principles :
Learning through experience rather than explanation "I hear, I forget I see, I remember I do, I understand". Based on sound psychological theories of learning that support this approach, the programme endeavours to break down existing stereotypes and provides a new understanding of leadership. It explores alternatives through a variety of experiential techniques, including visualisation, myth, drama, film, literature, biography and ritual.
Seeking to integrate intellectual, emotional, spiritual and physical aspects of the leadership experience through practical exercises.
Providing a mechanism for exploring not only new behaviours and attitudes, but new `ways of being in the world` in preparation for the leadership experience of venturing into the unknown.
Developing action plans that relate learning directly to work situations.
The challenge of a programme like High Performance Leadership is to enable delegates to re-engage with the hidden and suppressed energies that lie behind the everyday controls that we have all learned to apply in response to the challenges we have encountered throughout our lives, especially childhood. We are taught, and teach ourselves, to limit our expression in ways which are sometimes unhelpful and unecessarily limiting, in order to meet societal and cultural expectations. On the HPL programme we use a number of techniques to unblock suppressed energies and uncover hidden energies we help delegates find an authentic means of expressing some of these energies in an integrated, or holistic, way and thereby bring into consciousness a new potential for leadership.

Energy focus

The outcomes of the Praxis High Performance Leadership programme are both intensely personal and portable. Personal because they are derived from the individual`s boundless hidden potential, providing a truthful and tailored path for leadership portable because they are encoded in vivid images and metaphors which represent the particular behaviours and attributes that mark the unique leadership style of the individual. These are images that the delegate will carry with them, ready for use at any time. These powerful characteristics of the programme reinforce two vital leadership qualities - imagination and resilience.
Our definition of `high performance` in leadership is a test of imagination and resilience - whether someone has a vision of quality and the endurance to deliver it. Leadership at this level is above all a test of character : can we wield power both responsibly and effectively? Where and how do we access the creativity to transcend dilemmas, and the energy to hold our team together in the face of adversity? The methodologies behind our programme allow us to explore these potentials with our delegates.
Delegates take back to the workplace a set of inspirational commitments that crystallise their leadership calling and inform their action frameworks. Examples from recent programmes are:
"To re-invent my department as a creative and innovative team."
"To find enough courage to to see through the re-organisation of my group."
"To find my true self and overcome my fears"
"To engage in my work wholeheartedly and in top gear."
"To not let the past hold me back."
"To produce and sell a compelling vision for the future"
"To listen to my heart and get in touch with my `gut feel`."
"To become the ambassador for my team."
"To transform the performance of my new division."
"To revitalise a dysfunctional team."
"To accept the challenge ahead without the fear of failure."
"To stretch my abilities, vision my team and start enjoying it more."
By mining for gold in our inner potential, smelting and shaping it into useful tools, and bringing those tools back into the workplace and applying them to the everyday challenges of organisational life, we create new paths for leadership and regeneration.

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