Leading with Presence

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July 25th, 2016

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The challenges that leaders face change over time therefore the capabilities of individual leaders must also evolve. As Roffey Park’s Management Agenda research has identified, organisations continue to report they do not have the breadth and depth of leadership capability that complex, competitive business environments require. Whilst the majority of managers rate leadership skills of their line manager as effective, poor management remains at the top of reasons for leaving your organisation. There is, it seems, a gap between what organisations want from leaders and the degree to which this need is being met by current approaches to leadership development.

As part of this evolution, leaders are starting to discover the potential beyond the ‘doing’ of leadership as a set of competencies or even styles, to becoming more ‘present’ within the fullness of who they are as a person. This may sound fluffy or soft but what it means in practice is that, even under intense pressure, such presence helps leaders to maintain their integrity, authenticity, resilience and influence.

Roffey Park’s Leading with Presence programme is an approach that many organisations are choosing for this reason.

“Firstly, the programme helps participants to clarify what matters most to them as a leader. If we are fully in touch with this as leaders, we are much more motivated to hold true to this even under pressure, whether it’s leading change, handling conflict or just a big workload. It enables leaders to explore how, by being more present in themselves, they can be their very best more of the time.” explains Tom Kenward, Programme Director. “The programme doesn’t teach the often accepted how-to skills of leadership, as participants have normally learnt much of this through training and experience in their careers to date. Leading with Presence introduces leaders to a subtler but even more powerful domain, which is about going beyond their present image of themselves to become a more consistent, influential and inspiring leader by expressing their true purpose and the energy they have for manifesting that.”

Leading with Presence takes place over four days, usingseveral innovative and challenging approaches (including a day of equine assisted learning). Participants re-groupfor the fourth follow-up day six weeks after the initial three, to review their progress in applying their learning and to take stock of the progress they’ve made so far and find the consistent practices that will work best for them.

The programme uses a mix of approaches to gently challenge typical beliefs about the primacy of behaviour, doing and rational thought in leadership. This creates the space to then introduce less understood – let alone enacted – practices to do with the impact of our body and our energy more than our thought and speech. If this is hard to grasp that may be because it is to do with different intelligences beyond our cognitive brain. But to conclude that such things are irrelevant in leadership would be a mistake – it may just be that in these complex, uncertain times, nothing is more important than to return to these different intelligences.

A typical ‘Leading with Presence’ participant?

A range of participants enrol themselves on the programme as employees in organisations or freelancers in a range of consulting professions; others are guided toward it by their L&D staff, keen to help their leaders develop in a completely different way, to build these different sorts of capacities. The range is considerable but it generally appeals to people who have already reached a certain level and are looking to deepen their impact either as a leader and/or as a consultant.

Participants that will particularly benefit from the programme are those who have reached a point where their  technical expertise, management skill and existing relationship skills have got them as far as they can. Now, it’s vital for them and their organisation that they make an internal shift. Many participants are on the cusp of deepening their leadership presence and are ready to make a shift beyond ‘doing’ to include their full ‘being’ as well,” says Tom Kenward.

The power of equine assisted learning

The equine assisted learning element of Leading with Presence forms a core methodology for the programme. This is delivered in-house by the Roffey Park team and uses the responses of the horse to give unbiased feedback and helps to really understand what it takes to lead with the power of your presence. This approach is made full use of in this programme as it is preceded on the first day by a series of practised techniques that can then be applied with the horses.

“There are lots of subtleties involved in this element of the programme and for those that don’t take time to understand the learning involved here, equine assisted learning can come across as a gimmick. However, horses are a living mirror and will respond to your presence. Put simply, if you’re not present and connected with the horse, you won’t be leading, the horse will. A horse only responds emotionally and physically to the programme participants – there are no social or organisational niceties here, it’s all a matter of what impact you have,” says Sue Binks.

On the third day, the impact of days 1 and 2 are then integrated into the ‘so what’ back in the workplace, to ensure that participants have grasped the concrete applications of their learning. This is done through a mix of reviewing learning and further exercises to translate the techniques into work contexts.

A positive experience from the open programme

Ian Hughes, Chief Executive of Consumer Intelligence Limited, recently took part in Leading with Presence following a recommendation from his Head of Talent.

“In recent years Consumer Intelligence has grown massively in terms of our global reach, the number of employees and also our turnover. To support and sustain we have been looking at developing our team at all levels, I took that opportunity to look at my own approach to leadership and challenge myself and the way I work.

“When my Head of Talent put forward Leading with Presence it’s fair to say that I was deeply suspicious. I’ve completed courses at some of the best business schools in the world and I was concerned that working with horses to develop leadership skills smacked of ‘snake oil and gypsy medicine’. I put these concerns to one side, despite the fact there was no actual horse riding involved, and accepted that it represented a chance for me to see a different side to my personality and business skills. I acknowledged to my family that, worst case scenario, I’d lose three days of my life and headed off to Roffey Park!”

“I’m happy to be honest and say that at the end of day one of the programme I called home and admitted that I wasn’t sure why I was there. Although tempted to head home then, I decided to give it one more day and I’m so relieved that I did. On day two the penny dropped and brought the learning of day one into context.

“As a hard-bitten businessman, I’m not that fussed about horses. But I was fascinated by the way the horses react and how your presence influences them. Working with the horses in this way was the moment of truth for me: when you lead with your head and your gut, you get stuff done but you’re not truly leading with presence and taking your people with you.”

“At one point I had a ten-minute stand-off with a horse: I was trying to lead the horse and wanted it to move, but it wouldn’t budge and I felt I was going around in circles. I had to accept that to get the horse to move, I had to connect with it and change my mind-set and behaviour. You could say it was an epiphany – it wasn’t about me, it was about the horse and my leadership of it, I needed to see myself through her eyes.

“When I left Roffey Park following the programme, the reality of the workplace really does come at me like a steam train. It would have been far too easy to go back to my pre-horse leadership style, but I quickly recognised that this would not be of benefit to me, my team or my business. The programme has also introduced practical changes to the way I manage myself: every day I take some time to centre myself, focus on the priorities ahead and align my thinking with what I need to achieve.”

“Leading with Presence was a deeply personal experience and represents a moment of massive change for me. It has given me a fundamental pragmatism that I can bring into action in my day-to-day life and since completing the programme I have made some significant changes to the business that have had a positive impact on the way we operate, as well as our success and profitability. If I had not been on the programme, these changes would certainly not have taken place.”