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Leadership Development meets Brexit: What did I learn at a Roffey Park Taster Session – by Susan Young

When it comes to invitations, probably half of the UK would currently accept one for an event titled “Forget Brexit: get your leaders ready for global Britain.”

While the idea of forgetting Brexit for a bit is enticing, sharing leadership styles and leadership development which might help UK companies to not only survive but thrive in the coming turbulence seems like a no-brainer. So here I am.

As someone new to the Roffey Park way of leadership, it’s a fascinating morning. If your thing is heroic leaders and top-down structures, this probably wasn’t the session for you. If you’re interested in exploring how leadership can be better, how leadership skills can develop through training and facilitation, and how the human can be put back into the workplace, you’re in the right place. The invitees, HR and leadership professionals from a cross-section of some of the UK’s best-known organisations, certainly embraced the theme.

As CEO Robert Coles explains to me after: “We are the voice of the challenge. Although the methods of traditional leadership management organisations have failed over and over again, there’s almost no challenge. We set out to make a difference.“If you refuse to listen and create dialogue you end up in a cul de sac and the current political position shows that.”

What did I learn about this different way of looking at leadership development? 

In no particular order, here were the things I’ll carry on thinking about after the session:

  • There is an assumption that human value at work is going to be determined by machines – but why? Robert identifies three uniquely human factors. Unlike machines, we can create things which don’t exist. We have shared cultural knowledge and the ability to create relational networks. And our feelings are a function of our bodies, not our brains. Showing us an incredibly complicated diagram of actor-partner networks in a real-life planning scenario, he points out the bottlenecks and the badly-connected people. “Machines can’t do this. They can do the map but not the relationship building,” he says. Interpersonal skills and organisational development come into it too: sometimes the bottlenecks are created deliberately.
  • Competence is a myth: intercompetence – working together – is where human value lies. Amazon’s Alexa can do the measurable. But she can’t do collaborative intercompetency – that’s a uniquely human skill, and where real value lies for organisations. Organisations need to find a way of valuing what is important rather than what it is possible to measure.
  • Beware of the “interpersonal mush” going on in organisations. That’s the joyous term for when people jump to conclusions that there may be bad news ahead due to the curious behaviour of a senior member of staff, which is then shared and amplified rather than questioned. “We need to learn from independent and collegiate experience,” explains Ken Ingram, Roffey Park’s head of practice. The technique he teaches us, the Experience Cube (Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe) which he uses in leadership coaching or development sessions with facilitators to unpick more clearly what is happening. The method is deceptively simple, involving explaining an issue using thought, observation, feelings and observations – but it’s clearly both challenging and exhilarating for those doing it.

There was more, much more, covering almost everything you might want to know about leadership development, interpersonal skills and executive education – but from a very different point of view and philosophy.

The professionals from organisations as diverse as Transport for London, eBay, Cepheid, GLL and Border Force are clearly interested enough to take a couple of hours out of a working morning, and enthralled enough to create a real buzz in the room. “Roffey Park is always really interesting,” explains Tim Waterhouse of Cepheid, while Mariana Popovic of eBay said: “It’s a really intriguing topic: what are we going to uncover?”

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