Proof of Leadership Blog

Proof of Leadership Blog: developing great leaders

Leadership and responding to industry disruption


Responding to industry disruption? Creeping normality and other adaptive leadership issues.

Most organisations are talking about disruption in their industry – energy, mining, finance, taxi cabs, hotels, health, education. Discussion about VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) is common, but understanding about what do about it is not.

And senior executives are frustrated about the slow rate of change in responding to this disruption.

Why aren’t organisations responding more quickly to disruption?

It’s not clear what is slowing down responses to disruption. It could be a combination of a few things:

Are they caught in creeping normality? Where disruption is increasing so incrementally that change is not noticeable – this is similar to Peter Senge’s ‘parable of the boiled frog’ eventually delivering a bad result for the frog/organisation. (for more, see Peter Senge’s 1990 book the Fifth Discipline)

Or, taking an idea from cognitive neuroscience – is change happening at a slow enough rate that it is not triggering our flight/fight/do something response? Are the “frozen”?

Or is it that they have too much invested in our current organisational life to pay attention to what may be happening – the economic perspective?

4 strategies leaders can implement to challenge creeping normality and respond to disruption

There are some things you can do to respond to disruption…

  1. Get people out and talking to customers, industry experts, or even other industries facing disruption – and bringing back what they have learnt
  • The design thinking experiment model is great for this and creates the expectation that leaders will go out and learn, then report what they’ve learnt, identifying implications for the organisation
  • It’s surprising how rarely middle level leaders feel they are not able to get out and talk to customers or clients. They often say things like “I don’t have time”, “Marketing won’t support it” “It’s my team’s job to do this”.
  1. Use your innovation strategy or leadership development program to create structure and permission for change
  • This is particularly important in industries where the leadership structure is key to making things happen, for example engineering or finance
  • Make sure that a few quick wins are implemented, and recognised otherwise momentum and motivation are lost
  • Identify which systems you can improve immediately that will make everyone’s KPIs get delivered eg, reducing time to market for products.
  1. Be an adaptive leader – take time out to review your strategy at least once a week

For leaders, being action oriented is addictive – it’s great to solve problems. But the changing business environment, and the actual or potential disruption of almost every industry needs a more strategic perspective.

You have probably heard of the Balcony and Dancefloor concept from Heifetz and Linsky’s book Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading. In essence, taking action is being on the Dancefloor – absolutely necessary at times. Being strategic requires a shift in mindset to being on the Balcony looking at the Dancefloor, or multiple Dancefloors.

Getting on the Balcony

Here are some leadership strategies to get you on the Balcony:

  • Allocate 1 hour per week in your diary to reviewing your own behavioural contributions to responding to disruption, recording how you have helped or hindered your organisation’s responses to disruption. And what you are aiming to do next week
  • Allocate another hour per week in your diary to reviewing how the organisation is responding to disruption and what else you want to do about it
  • Create a compelling story about the need to change and communicate the story constantly.

For example, a leader (after a leadership development program) found an additional 10 hours per week by delegating non critical meetings, and using those 10 hours to identify key strategies for the business, including creating new relationships with Indian businesses, likely to bring in millions of dollars.

  1. Identify the new behaviours that will support you in learning about and responding to disruption – be specific and include them in your leadership capability framework, KPIs or strategy. Examples include:
  • Spend 30% of your time talking with people outside the organisation about what’s changing in the industry
  • Bring 20 new product ideas back from meetings with people outside of the organisation and prototype them, tracking and reporting results
  • Reduce time to market for new products by 50% (or in government agencies, implementing a new policy) through reviewing process and systems collaboratively across the organisation.

A large multi-national company significantly reduced time to market through leveraging a leadership development program to build cross-business thinking. The leadership development program design used the company’s real-world business issues as the foundation for testing out new approaches to innovation.

Amanda J Martin


Collaboration! (when it’s needed)


Collaboration has become one of those words.

Used by everyone, to cover everything, providing the solution for all problems. A recent HBR article by Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant says it all “Collaborative Overload”.

Collaboration as an important leadership capability

Despite its overuse, collaboration has become one of the top leadership capabilities required by organisations for a reason. It’s a critical gap in capability for most organisations.

Innovation and collaboration for business results

Product innovation, reducing time to market, and sourcing new customers is increasingly critical for all types of businesses from finance to food manufacturing. Particularly when small, agile competitors are using new products to boost sales and grab market share.

So the temptation is to do more of the same, to increase production, increase targets and to reduce costs, including development of people. And at the same time focus on individual results as a way of achieving business results.

However, complex situations require different behaviours, collective behaviours, and in particular collaboration because complex situations require diverse approaches to create successful solutions.

But most of our business heritage has rewarded delivery of individual responses to problems, even as our research and experience is telling us that to respond to our increasingly complex and global business environments, we have to be more collective, collaborative and network oriented[i].

So if you’re a leader or a HR professional responsible for developing capability, how do you respond to this call for collaboration?

Developing collaborative leadership capability

Collaboration is essentially getting the right people together at the right time to achieve a result or solve a complex problem.

It seems to be counter-intuitive, but taking time to skill people in key capabilities, even when you are under pressure, can support innovation in business.

This approach does a number of things – it not only skills people up, but it also says it’s OK to allocate time to change, and that there is a senior leadership expectation that change will happen.

How do you develop collaborative capability?

First of all, understand the skills and processes required for effective collaboration.

Identify whether collaboration is really required

Getting smart about when collaboration is needed and is not – is crucial. Sometimes it seems like collaboration is needed to solve a problem, particularly when there are a lot of stakeholders involved. And getting together with people often feels good. But if there is a solution to the issue you’re confronting and people are agreed on what needs to happen – collaboration isn’t required.

Understand the difference between adaptive and technical issues

Following on from the first point, Heifetz and Linsky provide a good focus on how to differentiate and define “technical” situations verses those that require “adaptive” solutions including collaboration and collaborative leadership.

Recognise that collaboration isn’t an individual sport

From experience and research, key skills required for collaboration include the ability to:

  • influence group dynamics and development
  • facilitate group sessions using participatory and other techniques
  • build trusting relationships through strong interpersonal skills
  • understand own and others’ mental models, values, assumptions and behavioural responses
  • assess stakeholder needs and analyse the best ways to engage them
  • understand and influence the broader political context related to the issue
  • use conflict to “raise or lower the heat” [1]
  • deal with a level of ambiguity and lack of control flexibly.

 Start the collaboration well

From the start of the collaboration great leaders do some key things:

  • Do a stakeholder assessment and ensure that a broad brush is taken to which stakeholders need to be involved or kept informed about the collaboration
  • Create a core group that will progress the issue at the heart of the collaboration and seek assurances they will stay with the project
  • Collectively create a shared vision, agreed set of behaviours to help manage group dynamics and conflict
  • Use good project management strategies including regularly informing stakeholders of progress, even if it’s only a shift in process (for example formation of the core group) – these are key milestones in a collaborative effort
  • Be aware of and manage the politics around this type of project or activity both within the core group and with other stakeholders
  • Set up metrics to measure the success and outcomes of the collaboration.

Deal with blockages to collaboration

Successful collaboration requires a good understanding of the issues that can block collaboration:

  • Structural issues such as governance, legal and regulatory tradition
  • Barriers to trust including competition amongst stakeholders
  • Lack of time – it often takes significant time to achieve a visible outcome through collaboration
  • Lack of awareness and dialogue about the assumptions each person brings with them
  • Difficulty in evaluating achievements or outcomes
  • No clear boundaries about the collaborative context
  • Poor management of conflict or the “undiscussables”
  • Stakeholders adding to the complexity of the environment and the task. 

Measure and communicate results

The results of collaboration are often hard to measure and to communicate, because they cannot be ascribed to one individual or team, but it is possible to create metrics to test whether the collaboration is delivering tangible results from the collaboration.

For example:

  • Faster time to market for new products
  • Improved customer service through collaboration across business units
  • Improved relationships with a community affected by your business
  • Reduced business costs associated with a product or service.

And recognizing everyone’s contribution to the collaboration means they are more likely to get engaged in the future.

Then you aim to develop collaborative capability

What leadership development approaches can support development of collaborative capabilities?

Experience indicates that the strongest shift in collaborative performance comes through the careful design of development -i.e. good collaboration doesn’t happen by accident. Ways you can build capability include:

  • Structure it up: by providing structured development and time out for those involved in the collaboration, collectively working together
  • Recognize new capabilities: the design of the development needs to focus on building the capabilities outlined above and they are different from those generally expected and rewarded
  • Involve senior leaders: complex challenges require whole of enterprise responses and resources, and senior leaders need to be part of the learning
  • Use practical real work issues: as the foundation of this development activity, rather than relying on case studies from other contexts
  • Create on-the-job opportunities: to work on the collaborative project through action learning processes
  • Feedback on development of the collective: skill the group in understanding not only how to collaborate but also how they are working together as part of this collaboration – feedback in real time
  • Recognise results: use the program to recognize the achievements of the group involved in the collaboration.

Taking your next step

When the call for collaboration next goes out, use the ideas in this blog to test the call, and if collaboration is required for a complex business project, create a structured approach to ensuring it’s successful.


[i] Van Velsor, E. (2008). A Complexity Perspective on Leadership Development. In Complexity Leadership Part 1: Conceptual Foundations. M. Uhl-Bien and R. Marion. Charlotte, North Carolina, Information Age Publishing Inc. 1: 333-346

Corporate Executive Board (2015) Enterprise Leaders Improve Team Outcomes, p. 9

Ramo, J C (2016) The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune and Survival in the Age of Networks, Little, Brown and Company New York

Heifetz, R. A., Linsky, M., & Grashow, A. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press.

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Developing your people: 5 simple ways to achieve this new leadership performance target


As part of wrapping up 2016 I’ve been reviewing “most requested” capabilities required of leaders in 2017.

And the winner is…developing people.

Organisations expect leaders to focus on revenue targets, customer service targets, and productivity targets.

But increasingly leaders are also are expected demonstrate how they are developing people for performance and as talent.

Here I’ve identified 5 (relatively) simple ways to develop your people.

1. Making sure they know what’s expected

A key element of this is feedback. As I said in my 9 ways to design valued and brilliant leadership development programs article, we mostly mess up feedback – it’s outsourced to surveys and responsibility for results is targeted at the survey process, instead of the feedback givers and the individuals involved. Creating structured, well-timed, and regular feedback can help people identify strengths and career-limiting blindspots.

The other key element is encouraging forward planning. I’m constantly surprised by the number of organisations not doing forward planning at the individual level. It may be that this is tangled up in concerns about performance plans and remuneration, but knowing is expected for the year, helps people to focus and achieve results – in cognitive neuroscience terms it can create certainty and reduce anxiety.

Development can be embedded into planning, with opportunities for project leadership, contribution ensuring that learning on the job is both planned for and recognised.

2.   Developing leadership mindsets

The ability to be flexible and build strategic mental habits is emerging as a crucial capability for leaders and for development. It can particularly assist developing leaders with:

  • understanding and changing mindset habits
  • responding to values and ethical challenges
  • decision-making and problem solving
  • collaborating with and influencing others[i][ii].

See a great article on the Neuroscience of Strategic Leadership

3. Getting out of the way

There are two things that are useful for leaders to consider here:

  • Giving their people opportunities and getting out of the way
  • Ensuring reflection is a structured activity for direct reports, talent, and teams
Providing opportunity

For leaders, having a developmental mindset often means taking a deep breath and giving someone a chance to be part of a new project, or team, or to do something innovative. BUT, it can bring up emotional responses that leaders generally ignore. These emotional responses can include fears that key performance targets won’t be achieved or concern about potential failures reflecting on leadership “brand”.

Enabling reflection

Reflective learning requires each individual to explore “how” as well as “what” they are learning. This supports acceleration of the development of not only the individual but also the enterprise and organization- it’s strategic[iii].

Reflecting often isn’t valued in organisations, and someone who says they are spending time reflecting instead of saying “I’m so busy” sets themselves up for some questions…

Leaders have the power to create structures, time and space, to help their people reflect, learn and think strategically through an enabling culture and through structuring in time.

4. Providing opportunities to understand what’s behind the strategy

Taking leaders to the next stage of cognitive development, supporting a shift in mindset, a broader strategic focus, and engagement with ambiguity[1] is becoming a feature of leadership development programs.

But you don’t need to wait for formal leadership development. You can spend time with your people talking about what’s behind the strategy aiming to broaden their perspective and help them understand that strategy is not a document, it’s a series of complex and often uncomfortable decisions and choices.

This, along with encouraging reflective capacity and development of personal leadership capability is crucial for developing talented, authentic and strategic leaders in your organisation.

5. Testing whether you have been successful

So how can you measure whether you’ve been successful in developing your people?

Here are some ideas for metrics and measures:

  • is your business unit seen by senior leaders and clients/customers/stakeholders as producing high quality people?
  • are your team members being promoted at a higher rate than others?
  • is business performance improving?
  • are your people engaged at work?
  • are talented people attracted to working in your team?


[i] Waldman, D. A., Balthazard, P. A., & Peterson, S. J., (2011). Leadership ad neuroscience : can we revolutionise the way that inspirational leaders are identified and developed? Academy of Management Perspectives. (25(1) 66-74.

[ii] See Carol Dweck Mindsets

[iii] See Bob Dick’s work on Action Learning

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9 ways to design valued and brilliant leadership development programs


Designing leadership development strategically

About brilliance

There really isn’t much written about how to design and facilitate great leadership development activities, so I’m interested in capturing what has really worked over 20 years of working with more than 10,000 leaders, and of course in working on my PhD which is focused on leadership development practice.

Here are some emerging approaches to leadership development, integrated with some old but good development strategies. When integrated well, they can ramp up leadership capability shift and value to both participants and their organization.

If you would like to talk more, please contact me:


1. Leaders need to experiment

Design thinking is increasingly popular, and the idea of human centered design and “experiments” to test ideas with clients and employees can be adapted to leadership development. Having leaders undertake low risk, low cost leadership and behavior change experiments is proving to be incredibly valuable for our approach to development.

2. Leaders need feedback

We mostly mess up feedback – it’s outsourced to surveys and responsibility for results is targeted at the survey process, instead of the feedback givers and the individuals involved. Creating structured feedback that can help people identify strengths and shift out of blindspots is crucial, particularly early in life, as is owning the results.

3. Leaders develop across time

We all know this, but challenging the current drive for leadership “events” and shallow dives into development is difficult. It is clear that leadership development is more effective where it is “multilevel and longitudinal” rather than on short-term or one-off leadership events[ii] and taking a long-term perspective helps deliver on the 70 of the 70/20/10 if designed well:

  • these approaches ensure the development of enterprise capability and collaboration
  • learning over time also supports learning at work which supports the gradual development of self-efficacy, leadership confidence and identity, interpersonal and intrapersonal processes through giving time to trial new behaviours and reflect on what may be changing
  • this type of development requires sophisticated leadership development design as well as highly experienced facilitation of development and methodologies to support challenge and transfer of learning to work.

4. Leaders need cognitive development

The Centre for Creative Leadership’s Nick Petrie[iii] proposes two distinct areas to focus on to support the development of leaders, following in the footsteps of Robert Kegan and of course Bill Torbert:

  • horizontal development: the transfer technical skills needed for well-defined issues and solutions
  • vertical development: taking leaders to the next stage of cognitive development which will allow a shift in mindset, a broader strategic focus, and engagement with ambiguity.

5. Leaders mindsets are important

Cognitive neuroscience offers ways of new thinking about leadership development including: neuroplasticity; mental habits; mindsets and how the mind works. It can particularly assist leaders with:

  • understanding and changing mindset habits
  • responding to values and ethical challenges
  • decision-making and problem solving
  • collaborating with and influencing others[v][vi].

6. Development needs to be real

Business focused action learning helps explore and resolve critical challenges and opportunities for the organization at the same time as enhancing leadership development and self-awareness[iv]. This is a very intensive boost to development when done well. Leadership development cubed!

7. Reflection accelerates behaviour change

The need to take action and be seen to be taking action is the major driver for leaders in many organisations. So reflection is mostly counter-cultural, but my research into impact indicates it’s one of the program design elements that most supports leaders in making behavioural change[i].

Reflective learning when integrated into development design, requires each individual to explore “how” as well as “what” they are learning. This supports acceleration of the development of not only the individual but also the enterprise and organization.

8. Strengths are often ignored

Positive organisational psychology suggests that leadership development benefits from moving from a purely deficit approach – what needs to be fixed. There is a lot of debate about this, but from my own practice in executive coaching and program design, people rarely focus on their own or others strengths.

And this approach is incredibly valuable to help people:

  • build on strengths that are already in place
  • use leadership development to instigate positive cycles of change
  • support the interpersonal aspects of leadership development[vii]

9. Leadership development value isn’t measured

Measuring value isn’t about ROI. It’s about each person understanding what the value of the program or development has been for them. And about capturing what has changed for both individuals the organization, along with “investors” – those who are funding, supporting and designing the activity.

Little is done about measurement in the leadership development industry. Mostly people rely on how it went on the day – and often on how the facilitator went on the day. This is fraught with danger. Learning can create discomfort, and probably should create discomfort.

Not measuring can also mean that capabilities developed and strategies put in place over time and in the 70% development frame are totally lost to the organization in its thinking about development and talent.

If you would like to talk more, please contact me:





[i] See Bob Dick’s work on Action Learning

[ii] Day, D. V., et al, (2013). Advances in leader and leadership development: A review of 25 years of research and theory. The Leadership Quarterly

[iii] Petrie, N. (2011). Future Trends in Leadership Development, The Centre for Creative Leadership

[iv] McGonagill G. & Pryn, P.W. 2010. Leadership development in the US: principles and patterns of best practice, Bertelsmann Stiftung Brookline, MA, USA, Gutersioh, Germany

[v] Waldman, D. A., Balthazard, P. A., & Peterson, S. J., (2011). Leadership ad neuroscience : can we revolutionise the way that inspirational leaders are identified and developed? Academy of Management Perspectives. (25(1) 66-74.

[vi] See Carol Dweck Mindsets

[vii] Cameron, K. & Spreitzer, G. (Eds) (2012) Oxford handbook of positive organizational scholarship. New York: Oxford University Press.

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Measuring the impact of leadership development – 4 Steps


4stepsforimpactYou are only 4 steps away from measuring the impact of your leadership development program

This article outlines what I’ve learnt about measuring the impact of leadership development both from experience and from reviewing the research.

While most people say measurement is important, only around 3% of organisations globally measure the results achieved through leadership development and the impact on organisational outcomes. [i].

For a full background to the changes in leadership development that are influencing how to measure leadership development impact, please go to our Articles page.

Measuring leadership development impact

These four steps are drawn from experience, together with a review of the academic research and program evaluation case studies. The questions, within each step of the process, support measuring the impact of leadership development beyond the level of individual participant to include results for the organisation:

  1. embedding measurement into the design of the development from the beginning;
  2. establishing program learning goals so that learning activities clearly contribute to individual and organisational change and results;
  3. developing a robust measurement methodology creating multiple points of evidence at the same time as recognizing the reality of organisational life; and
  4. reporting results to the people who have sponsored, supported and been a part of the development both celebrates the outcomes and provides accountability for their investment in the program.

4 Steps – designing your impact measurement strategy

1. Embed measurement into the design of the development activity
Key questions to consider during the design of a leadership program or development activity are:

  • What are the metrics that will tell the organisation that the program has been successful?
  • How will this program contribute to the organisation’s outcomes and strategy?
  • How will the program deliver on the organisation’s HR strategy?
  • Who are the key stakeholders for this impact measurement strategy?
  • How does the program fit with the overall leadership capabilities required for this organisation?
  • What are the assumptions underlying the design of the program and how will the design contribute to these objectives [ii]

These questions contribute to the development of robust program objectives, reflecting what the organisation is aiming to achieve, right from the early phases of the program design.

This is one of the most difficult stages of measuring impact – these questions are not easy to answer and may feel frustrating when stakeholders ‘just want to get the program going’.

2. Establish program learning goals
At this stage, program developers should be asking:

  • How will this program support participants to build their capability and to deliver on the organisation’s strategy?
  • What are the most effective learning activities that will ensure these learning goals are achieved?
  • How will these learning activities build on each other to deliver impact?

The temptation is to focus on the instruments, methods and tools that support development such as 360 degree feedback, executive coaching, digital learning, and specific learning models. However, bolting these together without considering how they support learning doesn’t deliver a well-designed and impactful program.

3. Develop a program measurement methodology
Embedding measurement into the learning design means asking:

  • What data will be needed to measure these program objectives?
  • Which measurement methods will help identify the required changes in knowledge or behaviour?
  • What is the cost of undertaking these measurement methods?
    What is the best timing for collecting data?
  • How will this data contribute evidence of the link to the program objectives?
  • How will the data be used to support iterative learning design, participant learning and engagement with program stakeholders?
  • What else is happening in the organisation that may affect the data collection or results?
  • While being founded in the rigour of research, methods for measurement of impact also have to be balanced with the relevance of organisational life and must be pragmatic.

It’s also important to identify whether the resulting data can be integrated, analysed and reported in a timely way to tell the story of the impact of the program for key stakeholders.

4. Report the results
In this stage, understanding who the program stakeholders are is crucial, as this guides reporting and insights:

  • What is the data saying about the program results when measured against the program objectives and learning goals?
  • Who needs to be involved in reviewing the data and in identifying insights?
  • What are the key insights: what is the analysis showing or not showing about the program impact for participants, their teams, their direct line managers, and for the enterprise more broadly?
  • What are the recommendations for change arising from the evaluation results and key insights?

Taking action: translating leadership development into impact

Understanding the impact of leadership development programs is crucial in an economic environment where organisations are under increasing pressure.

Learning and development programs are often the first to be cut in these circumstances yet there is significant evidence to demonstrate that investing in the ongoing development of leaders is essential to organisational success.

Understanding the impact and effectiveness of development is foundational in identifying what has been achieved and also what can be achieved, and it’s time that more than 3% of organisations use more effective approaches to measurement than “happy sheets”.


[i] McGonagill, G & Pruyn, P W. 2010 Leadership development in the US: Principles and Patterns of Best Practice, Bertelsmann Stiftung Leadership Series

[ii] Packard, T and Jones, L. 2015. An outcomes evaluation of a leadership development initiative. Journal of Management Development Vol 34, No 2 pp 153-168

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