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The formula for leadership

17 March 2015 By Bernard Kellerman

The question of management versus leadership is one of the defining aspects of modern life in the c-suite. The question of how these skills can be learned is also a crucial one.

So try this on for size: "Management is about the application of authority to achieve a desired outcome. Leadership, on the other hand, is about becoming more collaborative, giving up some of that authority."

That's the lift-pitch version from Richard Dent, chief executive of Leadership Victoria, on how the programs his organisation runs differ from conventional classroom and case-study based courses.

There is more to leadership than being a technical expert, he notes: "An MBA will teach you all the skills necessary for finance and HR and so forth. And those skills are absolutely necessary, but an MBA will not teach you how you are as a leader, and how people respond to leaders."

"For senior managers to become 'adaptive leaders', with the ability to respond to an environment that keeps changing, is quite a different skill set.

"This requires you to look within yourself about your own values, ethics and beliefs and to work out how other people's ethics and values interact with your own," Dent says.

"You cannot do it through classroom learning or from reading books, only from experiencing it."

2014 Folio Community Leadership Program participants.

That experiential component has been the crucial factor behind LV's programs, which have been turning managers into leaders for 25 years. One of LV's core programs is the Folio Community Leadership Program.

But a word of warning for those who are expecting a run of the mill training course or a checklist that has all the answers: a fundamental aspect of Folio, and many other of LV's programs, is for participants to be forced to confront today's so-called "wicked issues" – those social and environmental conundrums for which there is no cheap correct or single right solution.

"We set out to deliberately make people uncomfortable as that's the only way to instil a change in thinking and self-awareness," Dent says.

"What we do is to try to create a kind of leadership laboratory, where we take people out of their normal working environment."

"We teach people that it's okay not to know, almost at the start of the first day of the first two-day retreat.

Dent says this is done, typically, by posing an open question to the group – like "why are we here?" – and letting them decide how to answer it among themselves.

Apart from the self-awareness this triggers, it also shows them how leadership naturally evolves in a group.

"And that is such an eye-opener for people who are used to having their will done just because it's their word because they have the formal authority and often have the resources if they are in a very big company," Dent says. 

"We have established leaders who come and talk to this group, too, and they share their life stories about what's worked well and what hasn't worked well for them – that's been a very powerful way of learning."

Applications for Folio are being sought now, ahead of a comprehensive screening process. Intending participants will need to demonstrate that they are ready for the program, which requires commitment of 10 days over a seven month period.

"We are looking for people who are already well on the way to becoming good leaders, who are already in the top five per cent of competence," Dent says.  

Participants can expect to have their leadership potential boosted, self-awareness expanded and their assumptions challenged.