A new look at leadership

By Mike Jenner, he is the co-leader of the Leadership Practice and Development Unit within the University of Sydney Business School’s new MBA degree. He is also the founder of in•flu•ence, a leadership development consulting practice. Mike has an MBA from the Harvard Business School. From 1998-2000, he was the #1 ranked professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business where he redesigned and ran their Leadership Development Program, LEAD.

I’ve always been fascinated by how people interact. What makes one person influential while another is much less so? I’ve been trying to figure this question out since I was a kid, but when it really grabbed my attention was when I got a job selling books door-to-door.

Door-to-door book selling is influencing in its purest form. The interaction of two people: they’ve never met before, they’re unlikely to ever meet again and, for that brief moment in time, what happens?

I learned a bunch of things from that time; that the single biggest factor in whether the next family bought a book was how much confidence I had in myself in that moment – and that authenticity communicates. A connection happens when you’re really you and you genuinely have others’ best interests at heart.

That individual words matter. Replacing just one word in your communication can make all the difference in how that communication is heard.

The power of repetition. If you want to get good at something, do it a whole bunch of times, getting feedback on your effectiveness after each iteration.

We’re leveraging all these elements within Leadership Practice and Development. Building confidence, identifying who you really are, using language effectively and practice, practice, practice!

So what is leadership anyway?

For me, leadership is ultimately about what you can get done with and through others. For this reason if no other, leaders are judged by what they do, rather than by what they know.

MBA students at top business schools tend to be very smart and work very hard.   Which is great! And being smart and working hard can work fine as an individual contributor.  But anyone who’s successfully led people for any length of time will tell you that that’s not enough to cut it as a leader. Effective leadership is about creating an environment where people can excel.

Our new Leadership Practice and Development Unit has been specifically designed with this in mind.  Sure, you’ll learn a bunch of stuff about leadership, communication, teams and influencing.  That’s inevitable.  But how we’ll measure the success of this program is not by what you know, but by whether you work better in teams, whether you’re a better communicator, whether you’re more influential and, ultimately, how you lead.

In a traditional business school, a Professor in an organisational behavior class might ask, “What do you need to do to fire someone?” “I would apply this theory, apply this behaviour and do my best to avoid this other behaviour” comes the reply.  This all sounds great. But plunk the student down in front of you, say, “Okay, fire me!” and see what happens.

Business schools have historically been in the business of knowledge transfer. Students emerge from courses with more knowledge, but without having moved the needle very far in terms of the effective behaviours they actually use.  That can work in accounting, or finance, or marketing, or economics because these are primarily cognitive activities. But leadership isn’t.  It’s behavioural.  Knowledge transfer by itself doesn’t work with leadership.

And there’s something not quite right about teaching theory and then hoping that if the concepts are understood, that somehow that’ll just magically transform into effective behaviour.

Clearly, having a cognitive understanding of leadership theory is not the same as effective leadership in practice.

By design, an effective leadership program needs to impart knowledge, then provide a practical space for practice.  And that by providing this kind of experiential approach to teaching, we develop skills faster – and deeper – for the business leaders we work with.

Participants practice skills in a series of guided workshops. Through ongoing rounds of targeted practice coupled with specific feedback, our executives not only acquire the knowledge they need, but they also acquire a clear awareness of their personal strengths and areas for development.

And through this intense practice and specific feedback, participants build their real time competence and confidence at the constituent behaviours.

Finally, this experiential approach gets them to see the vital importance of the mindset they bring to each interaction, and how that influences their effectiveness in practice.

I’m really excited to be a part of the University of Sydney Business School’s new MBA Program. Where else is there the opportunity to build the effectiveness of our global business leaders of tomorrow?

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