I studied to become a PE teacher at university, and I remember one of my lecturers was a guy called Barry Davis. He was a champion Aussie rules player and coach and would often pepper his lectures, as sportsmen often do, with tales of his elite playing and coaching career. I have a vivid recollection of him telling us about one particular team he coached, describing in detail how he used to motivate his players. 

For one player he needed to get in his face to pump him up, talking loudly at him, another needed to listen to his Walkman in a quiet space (it was the 80s!).  He took another guy, who had a mischievous sense of humour aside and shared how he was going to surprise the opposition with a cheeky tactic.  I taught PE for a few years, but then moved into corporate training, now of course called L&D.

Overtime I became responsible for leadership development at various companies from Apple, to Expedia, 3 & EE. Of course, I fell into the ubiquitous trap of creating a leadership development programme, usually involving some sort of “expert”, some offsites, some classroom training, and in recent times, some digital learning. These programmes usually involved activities around how to inspire and motivate a team, a model for everything from objective setting to giving feedback, oh and the famous role-play.

Overtime things were introduced like DISC & Insights where we taught people how to categorise a person by their colour, so it made managing them easier. Or did it? Worse still was the outdoor adventure activities, where apparently walking up a mountain made you a better leader. I was made to go on one of these once and it did absolutely nothing for my leadership ability, nor my temperament!

I also made the mistake of starting these programmes aiming them at middle management, or mid-senior level. The top teams all had exec coaches and convinced me (or I convinced myself), that they had nailed leadership, due to their position, so I shouldn’t bother them with this sort of stuff.  Silly me.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with all of the above, there were learning outcomes, objectives, evaluation etc, but I think I have found a much better way.  A Barry Davis way.

"We developed a Leadership Blueprint, which contains the characteristics we desire our leaders of the future to possess and lead their teams. We have put a tremendous amount of thought behind this and making it simple is hard."

I started my role at St James’s Place two years ago.  I was determined this time, to ensure our programme actually developed exceptional leaders. Here is the journey we have been on step by step.

Partnering with Exceptional Leadership Limited, the very first thing we worked on was deciding what our leadership principles were. What did we truly believe as a team and as an organisation. Here is what we believe:

1. Leadership is a way of life, not a position in the hierarchy. Whether we are leading ourselves, our teams or SJP, we must all think of ourselves as leaders.

2. Leadership is our actions, not our words. As Leaders we are responsible for the success of our business. Results emanate from ambitious goal setting, resolute focus, and personal accountability.

3. Leaders must understand themselves deeply before meaningful and sustained development can occur. This is not the person we see, but the person others see.

From there, we then developed what we called our Leadership Blueprint. It contains the characteristics we want our leaders of the future to possess and a clear way in which we want our leaders to lead their teams. There is a tremendous amount of detail and thought behind this and like all things, making it simple is hard, but we have defined what we want our leaders of the future to be. 

This is how we want them to lead themselves:

1. Hungry: Our standards are high, our work ethic strong, our energy is palpable. We set the pace and we bring people with us, instilling a hunger in our people that drives them to go above and beyond.

2. Human: We show empathy to our people and demonstrate a genuine commitment to their wellbeing and success. Our leadership brand if authentic and consistent and we harness it to solicit the best from others. We care about the wider society and our role as a responsible citizen in a responsible business.

3. Smart: We are emotionally intelligent, cognisant of interpersonal dynamics, and know how to positively impact those around us. We constantly seek a diverse perspective. Our judgement is sound. We blend data, experience, knowledge, and intuition to make the right decisions. We are curious, agile, and resilient.

And we want them to lead teams that have unity, rhythm, and spirit. As I mentioned, there is a lot of detail behind this, but have 3 punchy words for leading yourself and leading teams is memorable and actionable but most importantly has had impact.

Given that one of our leadership principles is that leaders need to understand themselves deeply, we decided that Hogan will form the basis for our leadership development. We give all leaders a summarised one pager, designed for them to share with others and also then run team days where all the data is presented to a team so the truly start to play to each other's strengths and understand how people are hard wired. 

Something else we have worked on with Exceptional Leadership Limited, is an app that holds everyone’s Hogan data.  People are then able to search for anyone else in the business and compare and contrast Hogans. This has led to really strong cross functional collaboration from top to bottom.  It also gives leaders they key to motivating their individual team members. 

Now, something else that I’ve learned over the years is that measurement is imperative when doing any training, but especially leadership development. It’s also something that’s often overlooked, or something that becomes wrapped into an end of year review based on some feedback. We have developed 2 methods of evaluation.

When it comes to measuring an individual leader, we have a 360-feedback tool, but with a twist. We measure specifically against the 15 characteristics that sit behind hungry, human, and smart. The twist in this 360 tool is that we show where people may be under or overplaying one of these characteristics.

The second evaluation is called Team Climate. This is a 3 hour facilitated session with a leader and their leadership team. We utilise Mentimeter in the room so people can anonymously respond to the 15 characteristics that sit behind unity, rhythm, and spirit and discuss where they think they are on a scale. This is hugely effective as at the end, they have created a clear action plan on what they need to work on and decide collectively how they intend to do this. It means that L&D are not prescriptive in how teams achieve unity, rhythm, and spirit, which has led to a lot of great work that is unique to each team.

Following on from all of this is a complete curriculum for both leaders and teams. I don’t believe in dictating whether people should develop their strengths or weaknesses. I think that’s up to them.  As is, choosing when and where they want to develop, so we have a fully flexible curriculum that accommodates all learning styles. We continue to develop team facilitated sessions to establish psychological safety, enable peer feedback and truly help leaders develop unity, rhythm, and sprit.

We intend to continue to develop interventions, start active learning groups to encourage peer learning and create tools so leaders can help themselves to development when they and their teams need it.

So, the lesson from Barry Davies I now realise it’s possibly the best lesson in how to lead people I’ve ever come across. Thank you Barry Davies. Who knew!