By Alison Coleman
Need to hone your skills but unsure of the training you need? We look at the options…
Business leaders are truly tested during a lengthy economic crisis. But, at a time when the benefits of training and leadership development could really make a difference, a focus on controlling costs can dampen the desire to invest in business education.
So how can you continue to hone your skills in challenging times? Well there’s good news, say the experts – the traditional perception of a need for expensive, time- consuming executive MBAs at big-name institutions is being replaced by a more fleet-footed, cost-effective approach that can prove just as beneficial.
From part-time courses to distance learning, mentoring to executive coaching and leadership retreats, or even enrolling with less-revered institutions which can give a better perspective on emerging markets than more prestigious competitors – there’s something to suit every leader and bank balance.
Read on for our experts’ take on the best types of leadership development around and which could be the ones to save you time and make you money…
BUSINESS SCHOOLS AND MBAs
An executive MBA is the gold standard of business education, revered by aspiring directors as the best way to grasp business fundamentals. But the way people are studying for them is changing. Deterred by costs and worried about job prospects, fewer students are picking full-time EMBA programmes – applications dropped by 10 per cent in the US last year, says the Graduate Management Admission Council.
Fees for full-time programmes vary, but £20,000 upwards for a one-year programme is not unusual, plus the additional costs of lost earnings and living expenses. But there are part-time, online and distance- learning programmes that provide business leaders with a more flexible and cost-effective route to an EMBA.
DOCTORATE OF BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION
At first glance, a research project appears to lend little to leadership development. But Andy Wood, chief executive of Suffolk- based brewer Adnams, would argue that it depends on what you are researching.
He left school for full-time employment at 16, but it wasn’t until he had completed his in-house training and development at what was then Norwich Union that he had the desire to continue his education, and in 1994 completed an MBA at Anglia Ruskin University. On joining Adnams in 1996, he ascended the ranks swiftly, joining the board in 2000. Shortly afterwards, he began studying part time, over four years, for a doctorate of business administration at Cranfield – a move that he believed would test the leadership abilities he already had while honing specific skills for the business he now had a key role in running.
He says: “For the research part of the programme I studied entrepreneurship in very small businesses, including pubs, which really helped me to understand my own organisation and the people in it, and as a result, build better relationships with those people.
“When you are learning and doing your job, you’re in a pressure-cooker situation, and it is important not to panic. That experience has stood me in good stead, and in the very tough financial and economic climate, made me a bolder and more confident leader.”
As well as the prestigious CDir (Chartered Director) programme – aimed at directors who are already on a board, or looking to join one – the IoD offers a range of shorter courses for those below board level.
Ryan Ahern, IoD director of learning and development, says: “Demand for leadership training and development has remained strong, in spite of extremely challenging economic conditions. There is a range of interventions available, including formal business programmes and less formal development tools such as coaching, mentoring and networking, which can all be effective in different ways.
“For example, if you want a better understanding of a particular industry sector, having a mentor from a different sector can be invaluable. If you are having problems with a difficult CEO, you wouldn’t want to turn up on a course and openly say that, so in these situations one-to-one coaching may be a better option.”
Dr Suzy Walton is a chartered director and chartered scientist whose career portfolio includes 10 years as a senior civil servant in central government. Today she sits on the boards of 10 organisations in fields ranging from forensic science to internet regulation. Her impressive CV is underpinned by her passion for lifelong learning and development.
It was the CDir that she found most challenging and in terms of board-level leadership skills, the most relevant and valuable. She says: “Through this programme you acquire the skills and the confidence you need to determine with absolute clarity what your role is, and more importantly what it isn’t.
“At board level you face so many issues – finance, strategy, marketing – and the CDir teaches you to focus on the ones that you are responsible for rather than getting caught up in those that you aren’t. When you are choosing a development programme, be clear about what you need to know, both now and later.”
As an employee with a large multinational firm, Richard Garland used the skills and knowledge he gained from an Open University MBA to set up his own firm of chartered surveyors, Gradient Consultants.
Studying over a four-year period reduced course costs of £11,000, plus residential course fees, and for Garland was the optimum way of developing his leadership skills. “Moving through the course electives, from finance to creativity and knowledge management to marketing, gave me confidence to try new ideas and taught me to look at problems in a new light,” he says. “I learnt that there is rarely a right or wrong answer; only that good decisions have to be made.
I’m more receptive to the advice of others, and I’ve learnt to listen. “My MBA skill set enables me to stay focused, deal with issues and conflict more effectively, and remain in charge. With hindsight, would I do the same programme again? In spite of the economic climate and all the uncertainty, yes I would.”
Studying at a top international business school was always considered the most coveted way to gain a business qualification. Enrolling at a premier US or European business school is still the most expensive way to study, but there are alternatives. Russia and eastern Europe boast a number of new and globally relevant MBA programmes, including the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo MBA, which focuses on leadership, entrepreneurship and emerging markets such as Russia, China and India.
The costs of international MBAs are high, but those who have chosen to study overseas invariably state that building leadership skills in a multinational, multicultural environment delivers extra return on their investment.
While working in the humanitarian sector Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke saw a need to improve her leadership skills and enrolled on an executive international MBA programme at the prestigious ESCP Europe business school, which has campuses in London, Paris, Turin, Madrid and Berlin, at a cost of around €40,000 (£33,000).
She says: “It was a huge investment, which I funded myself. While it was a decision that surprised a lot of people because I was from the not-for-profit- sector, it is a sector where good leadership skills can make the biggest difference. The trigger was my experience in the Philippines, managing a humanitarian crisis where I became very involved in microfinance and social business.
“I chose the international programme because the humanitarian sector is by nature a cross-cultural and international one, and spending time on the European campuses brought me into close contact with people of many nationalities.”
As a result of her experience, Nefesh- Clarke founded a global charity, Women’s Worldwide Web, an online philanthropy platform which connects and empowers women through education, microfinance, mentoring and entrepreneurship.
At leadership development specialist Cognosis, the focus is on leadership and strategy and working with leader teams.
Founder Richard Brown says: “Strategy is essentially about data, and analysing the practical action points, but emotion and intuition also have a fundamental role to play. That side of business strategy is often ignored, so our approach is to focus on the leader teams, enhance the way that board members interact and communicate, and ensure that the business leader connects emotionally with the top team members.
“The result is a leader who is bold and courageous, who inspires confidence and commitment in others, and even where attitudes differ, brings together the top team members to share one point of view.”
Mentoring, coaching and to a degree NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) are non- academic development tools of leadership skills, and all three work in different ways.
Leadership mentoring is usually offered by someone with greater experience and knowledge who can offer impartial advice and support. Increasingly popular is cross-sector mentoring, which broadens a leader’s skills and experience and helps to drive innovation.
Executive coaching uses a similar approach to mentoring but tends to be short- term, task-based and focused on setting goals and providing a framework to achieve them. NLP is seen as a useful method for understanding and analysing communication and perception.
Used in combination, these tools can be effective at enhancing some of the less tangible qualities of strong leadership. Peter Chadha, founder of IT consultancy services start-up DrPete, supports leadership mentoring, coaching and NLP. He was mentored by his boss in a previous job and, as a business owner, still has a mentor. His team of 12 consultants benefit from in-house coaching and NLP sessions delivered by an external practitioner.
Chadha says: “Effective leadership is about getting the best performance from your people, which is something that all of these development methods can help you achieve. NLP is a brilliant tool for understanding how people communicate, why they say what they say, and what they really mean. That matters whether you are running a small business with a handful of staff, or you are heading up a multinational. Strong leadership means ensuring that everyone in the organisation has the opportunity to achieve their full potential, and in this climate, employee engagement, motivation and performance are key.”
Escaping the daily pressures of business for a relaxing weekend retreat on the Cornish coast doesn’t sound much like a leadership development initiative. When times are tough, combining the responsibilities of steering an organisation with a commitment to training programmes can create extra burdens.
But some directors find leadership retreats help. They are short residential programmes, often in peaceful settings, where leaders can focus on their personal leadership goals, away from the pressure and challenges of the boardroom. But as Ian Filby, chief executive of furniture manufacturer and retailer DFS, discovered [at a retreat designed and run by Laurence Udell of Udell Group] , it is the perfect environment for clear-headed leadership thinking and planning. He says: “I have an executive coach [Laurence Udell] who has helped me in a very practical way, especially since I joined DFS. I took on a massive role in a 40-year-old family business, and I had to find a way to work with existing teams, which was challenging, but the coaching definitely helped.
“My goal was to create a personal and business vision. I wanted to forge my own brand identity as a leader. The retreat, which was part of the coaching process, and something I’d never done before, enabled me to create space to think about my team, the managers, and customers, and construct action paths, or my key ‘to dos’.
“Although I was there with a small group of other business leaders, it was a solitary experience, quite intentionally, which gave me the time and space to define my vision for the company and for myself as a confident and authentic leader. Last year was a tough one for the company. This year promises to be the same, but I’m in a good place to meet the challenges and bring everyone in the company with me. As development opportunities go, the retreat is one that I would recommend to any business leader.”
Director March 2012