"Organisations focus too much on performance being purely on what is in people’s goals."

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Paul Corke is Leadership Development Manager at MBNA. He was previously Learning Manager at Bank of America and before that Training Manager at Barclaycard. In this interview he lets us know his views on leadership today, the future of leadership and best practice when it comes to developing leaders.

Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, HRZone: What are your thoughts on Leadership today?

Paul Corke, Leadership Development Manager, MBNA: Overall leadership has been through a massive transition in the last 50 years. It has moved from industrial-style management before the two world wars to leaders in the 60/70s who were selected based on leadership characteristics.

This has been by fuelled by the command and control style of leadership across organisations which we still see today. Then we had the advent of EQ in the 80s onwards which meant leaders needed to demonstrate self-awareness and emotionally connect with their people. As we move to today it is about value-based authentic leadership, leaders who want to make a difference who have a sense of agency and who can demonstrate the learning agility to adapt to change.

What it means to be a leader is changing over time and in my eyes leadership practice is playing catch up with leadership theory. Leadership can be made as complex or simple as a leader wants, understanding what good looks like and then continually practising this is what makes the great leaders of today.

Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, HRZone: And what advice would you give to leaders?

Paul Corke, Leadership Development Manager, MBNA: My advice would be if you want to consider how to lead people the first thing you need to understand is how people want to be led. This has dramatically changed since the advent of the internet and social media.

I personally believe that people want to be given accountability, autonomy and trust to do a job and be provided with timely feedback if they are making mistakes. And they should be allowed to make mistakes and learn from failure. With the possibility of five different generations in the workplace from baby boomer to Gen Z soon the diversity of expectations means you need to really understand your people.

You also have to take a holistic view of people. So it is a view that you lead people by taking into account who they are and not just what they are here to do. I do think organisations focus too much on performance being purely on what is in people’s goals rather than focusing on the person as a whole.

It’s about being career focused rather than purely performance-focused. If we don’t find out what the essence of a person is how do we expect to get the best from them? I love the quote ‘Leaders create leaders not followers’ so as a leader I should treat my people as leaders. I think if you get the essence of this and what good looks like here you will trust and empower your people to lead the way.

I also believe that if you want to be a leader you need to be grounded in positive psychology. I’m a massive believer in an approach that focuses much more on strengths and stretching those strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses. By doing this we are more likely to have engaged, enthused and motivated employees (leaders!).

 I do think in organisations the challenge remains the same so moving from command and control to more empowering styles of leadership. I also think over time this will happen naturally as generations move on and new thinking comes into organisations. Within organisations leaders need to understand what good looks like so identifying the critical Leadership Success Factors is key to developing the leadership of tomorrow today.

Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, HRZone: What is the leadership challenge we face today?

Paul Corke, Leadership Development Manager, MBNA: There is a burning platform we all face at the moment and that is the rate of change in the world and the impact this is having. What has made you successful previously will not necessarily guarantee you success in the future because the world is changing, technology is changing, the customer is changing and it is all happening at an exponential rate.

What does this mean? It has never been more important to keep refreshing our skills, with practice being essential to our success. There is no point in reading a book, attending a course, completing a project if you don’t learn anything from it but more importantly apply it on a consistent basis.

I think it is a leader’s priority to help their people develop a growth mindset so ensuring your people are open to new ideas, new perspectives, new ways to learn, open to challenges and learning from failure. It’s very easy for employees to become conditioned and develop a fixed mindset i.e. "we have always done it this way" or become set in their ways. Leadership is about helping to develop mindset and about winning hearts and minds.

Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, HRZone: You mention Leadership Success Factors?

Paul Corke, Leadership Development Manager, MBNA: Working at MBNA recently we focused on what the critical leadership success factors in recruiting top talent are.

Working with the executive team along with external research we came to five Leadership Success Factors - Aspiration, Learning Agility, Strategic Thinking, EQ and Resilience. Basically if you want to bring great people into your organisation you need to define what good looks like for each success factor. This means you have to go beyond conventional competency models.

The same process can be used in sport to define what makes sportsmen and women great. There will be similar success factors and it is then a process of defining what good looks like so you can measure against this and embed this within your organisation.

We have then brought in the best external speakers on the Leadership Success Factors to talk and also based our leadership development offering on these success factors.

Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, HRZone: How do we best develop leaders?

Paul Corke, Leadership Development Manager, MBNA: To develop leaders and drive real behavioural change it is essential to provide real time, immersive and experiential leadership development opportunities. I’m a massive believer in bringing leaders from across the business together in groups to work on leadership challenges.

This has a self-reflective learning process based on the success factors from a team and/or individual perspective. We also like to use a panel so a Dragons Den approach to test and check learning at the end of the challenge. In recent years we delivered a Leadership Digital challenge for leaders to come up with a digital product that MBNA could invest in over the next 2-3 years.

The level of creativity, teamwork and commitment from the groups was fantastic but it is the behavioural change that experiential learning provides that makes a massive difference.

Also we ask all leaders to assess themselves against the Leadership Success Factors to identify strengths and development areas. We then provide leaders with a choice of blended, innovative, experiential and responsive solutions they can choose from based on the Success Factors. This is key to developing your blue print and future proofing your leadership capability.

I think organisations need to move to a form of responsive leadership development instead of static offerings so leaders get in-time development with what is topical or what the business is focused on at the time through the business strategy, employee survey, external influences all aligned to the success factors. Using a social media platform to support your offering helps to embed responsive and collaborative Leadership Development.

Jamie Lawrence, Managing Editor, HRZone: What does the future look like for leadership?

Paul Corke, Leadership Development Manager, MBNA: During the last two decades, we have gained a far more accurate view of what it means to be human and human behaviour with the integration of psychology and neuroscience. Imaging technologies, positron emission tomography, and brain wave analysis technologies have revealed unseen neural connections in the human brain allowing for a much greater understanding of the workings of the mind.

In the next five years we are going to learn so much more about how the brain works that we will see a move to neuroleadership practice. As we take on board more of an understanding of how to lead and get the best from people through neuroscience and integrating these lessons into how we develop leaders will be essential to keeping pace in business.

My unwavering advice in life in general is find something you love, something you are passionate about and make it your life. You will lead the way naturally then and be the best leader you can be. So for me being a leader of thought is just as powerful as being a leader of people.

About Paul Corke

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