Why leadership development needs a mindset change | Mantle

13 May 2022

Why leadership development needs a mindset change

Sceptical about leadership development programmes? We don’t blame you! Despite billions of dollars of investment over the last 20 years, there is evidence all around us of a dearth in leadership behaviours. As Mantle Managing Director, Graham Hart explains, the industry needs a fundamental mindset change.

We need to lift our expectations about leadership development

It’s hard to find a leadership article that doesn’t reference ‘the great resignation’. There is certainly plenty of discussion (and research) about declining well-being, increased anxiety and disengagement among employees – and leaders alike.

I am sure the testing times over the last few years are building character and forging new leaders – but is that enough when the processes designed to grow and develop leaders do not appear to be working?

As someone who works in the field of leadership development, you might be surprised to learn that we agree with the criticism. Many leadership programmes are somewhat a ‘hope for the best’ situation. There is frequently little sustained impact achieved, despite the good intentions (and expense) involved.

A change in thinking is needed

Helping leaders achieve their potential starts by giving them the opportunity for change (and providing the required new skills and tools to do so). If there is no change in thinking, there is little chance of a permanent shift in their behaviour.

It occurs to me that the mindset about leadership development also needs to change. A fundamental upgrade in thinking is needed – starting with lifting our expectations about the desired outcomes.

Instead of a ‘fingers crossed’ approach, the focus should instead be on the achievement of sustained behaviour change.

Why behavioural change matters most for leadership growth

Achieving behaviour change requires small, sustained effort. In the case of leadership development, when we are thinking of changing behaviour, we should be thinking about fostering new habits.

If we could optimise our habits, we might find we are living quite differently. Behavioural science shows that building useful habits – including those that help us lead more effectively – involves three key factors:

1. A purposeful practice

2. A monitoring system

3. Follow-up to embed the change

Most of us need what neuroscientists call ‘focused attention’ to get into (and permanently adopt) a change in behaviour. In this chaotic world, that takes regular encouragement – or a nudge.

‘Nudging’ is already proving to be successful in psychological studies. It may have been something you’ve experienced for yourself. A simple example is where you use a phone app to deliver daily encouragement or motivation.

If these types of follow-up opportunities are maintained over the long-term, it offers effective learning that embeds constructive and, crucially, sustained change.

(If you are interested in reading further about forming new habits, you’ll find the work of Stanford behavioural scientist, BJ Fogg, to be valuable reading.)

Hardwiring behaviours that make us better leaders 

You might think my suggestions are not that radical – but I would beg to differ. It would bring about a fundamental shift when it comes to the prevailing approach to leadership development. Here are just a few examples to illustrate.

Traditional leadership developmentFocusing on sustained behaviour change
‘One-size-fits-all.’Prioritising the individual learner.
Broad-based content ‘dumping.’Targeted approach.
Theoretical thinking.Prompting and supporting immediate,
practical application.
Requiring learners to try fitting in new
ways of behaving when time permits.
Cultivating the desired new habits frequently
and continually.
Learners left to figure out everything themselves.Leaners are supported by the organisation.

It’s immediately evident what a shift in approach this would achieve to help leaders thrive!

Helping leaders achieve their potential

At Mantle, evidence-based research and neuroscience underpins our work with top New Zealand leaders. If you’d like a few suggestions to help you and your leaders be at their best, simply contact our leadership development experts now for a non-obligation conversation