Leadership Development Needs Superglue

Lately, when I facilitate, I've been thinking about this rhyme kids used to say when I was growing up: "I am rubber, you are glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you." 

Leadership development rarely sticks. And when it doesn't, I often blame myself.

I can teach the heck out of a class on communication styles or strategic thinking, and design a quick reference guide on improving 1:1 meetings that will knock your socks off. But you know what I can't do? Make someone actually change their behavior. It's taken me a long time to realize that.

Leadership development needs superglue.

And the superglue it needs starts with participants.

Self- awareness. In my class on giving feedback, I cover how positive feedback is different from praise, and the components that all constructive feedback conversations should have. Participants practice giving effective constructive feedback, and complete a start/stop/continue at the end. But if a leader doesn't believe that he is bad at giving feedback, or files everything in the trash can at the end of the day because he doesn't think he needs it, what happens? Nothing. 

Practice and Support. Changing a behavior takes practice. And while practicing, it's critical to have someone who can offer support. Someone who will call us out when we slide back into old ways,  give feedback when we do it wrong, and share the excitement when we get it right. Someone who cares. The desire to change is not an unlimited resource. Without practice or a support system the well runs dry. 

Accountability.  Change doesn't happen unless there is accountability. If a leader isn't held accountable for changing how he gives feedback, or how he runs his 1:1 meetings, or improving his emotional intelligence, he's probably not going to change. Why? It takes effort to change, and the day job is already hard enough. Why would anyone add more on top of it, if there's no accountability to actually change? 

Behavior change starts with self-awareness, because that creates the desire to change. But even the leader who is acutely self-aware of his weaknesses still won't change if it he doesn't practice or isn't held accountable. 

It takes a village to help leaders improve, and good facilitation or class design is only one component. Without the superglue behaviors, participants are the "rubber" and the lessons from every class they attend will bounce right off.