What I have learned about leadership development
My approach to developing leadership is the result of working with leaders from all over the world who, to a greater or lesser degree, want to create positive change. How I design leadership programmes has changed in ways that I could not have imagined ten years ago. The building blocks of my courses have not altered so much, but the way I put them together has changed considerably.
Connecting with people and place
“Based in Timisoara, Romania, the West Regional Development Agency is a non-governmental organisation with more than 80 employees, engaged in regional policy design, management of EU funds, innovation and clustering, investment promotion and international relations. Edward Kellow was invited by our agency to deliver a “crash course” on Leadership Skills for our management staff, in 2012. During 2 days that we spent in the charming countryside, Edward swept us off our feet with an intense and challenging mix of brief lectures, role plays, practical exercises and insightful debates. All these happened at a speed and intensity that Edward chose according to our openness and propensity for change and new information. It was a roller coaster that offered us a lot of content, as well as opportunities to professionally and personally expand our horizon. This is how I would describe Edward’s “fingerprint” as a trainer, one that I could always recognise”
Raluca Cibu-Buzac, Director for Regional Policy and Internationalisation – West RDA Romania
Since 2006, I have had the privilege of observing, and listening to leaders, learning together, all over the world. What I have discovered is that the most profound learning happens when there is a chemical reaction between the participants, the programme content, and the facilitators. Real change happens when we see or hear something that makes us question our behaviour and assumptions. My own learning journey as a leadership trainer has led me to realise that people learn more when they have a meaningful experience that allows them to connect with their values, with other people, and with their environment. Pushing concepts and theories into people’s heads is not helpful by itself. Having conversations with the right people, at the right time, in the right place is what really matters.
My early efforts at leadership development ticked all the boxes from the point of view of training good practice: a systematic approach to design and content, agreed learning aims and objectives, a balance between theory and practice, a focus on learning from doing, and time to reflect. Because of this, most participants moved a long way towards achieving their learning objectives in just two or three days. I got good feedback.
I now see leadership programmes as transformative learning experiences that have the greatest impact when learners are able to get out of the conference room, and form an emotional connection with people and place. When planning a leadership event I think in terms of learning journeys that explore a wide range of leadership and sustainability challenges and opportunities: e.g. consumption, water, energy, food, waste, how to build sustainable urban and rural communities. We go to the places where people are living with these social, economic and environmental challenges, connect with the individuals and organisations that are most affected, and try to put ourselves in their shoes. We ask questions, form hypotheses, but stay curious. We then work together to draw out the learning in terms of what resonates most for each individual in their personal and their professional lives. My aim is to offer learners a memorable experience with deep personal learning that each person can take away and use back in the workplace, or in their families and communities.
Peer to peer learning
Each journey has a beginning, a middle and an end. Each learner has different experience, and a different perspective on what they see and hear during the programme. Peer2Peer learning is as important as the inputs from knowledge experts and local leaders. In practice, most people continue to make sense of their journey long after the programme is over.
You can read about some leadership programmes I have delivered to different learners in different contexts below: