Internal leadership development | SEI - Swiss Engineering Institute
Internal leadership development
July 25, 2018
By SEI Redaktion


Internal leadership development

An old method: "Know thyself" is an adage that dates back to the time of the Ancient Greeks and is written on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. More than 2000 years ago, Greek philosopher Heraclitus also formulated the following as a concept: "Everyone has the right to recognize themselves and think intelligently." This is particularly true of leadership development when it comes to young talent. Profound ancient philosophical questions accordingly become HR concepts that give companies a competitive advantage in the present.

Catching chickens rather than repairing fences

However, many things stand in the way of the advice of the Ancient Greeks, including the sentence: "I don't have time to fix the fence. I need to go and catch chickens instead." This ironic exacerbation reflects an experience that managers often have. Daily business takes over the office, dozens of chickens need to be caught, and everyone forgets about the fence with the holes in it. In fact, it could apply to life in general. Ancient methods no longer count, and leadership development fails because day-to-day business stands in its way.

Often the simpler concept is to blame external circumstances or supposedly incompetent employees – instead of shining a light into the dark corners of one's own soul, i.e. catching chickens rather than repairing fences! "Many managers always run into the same brick walls, and as a result gain painful self-awareness, but this awareness is still insufficient for self-knowledge", summarizes Prof. Thomas Fischer. Since 2011 he has been a lecturer in management psychology at the FHNW School of Business in Switzerland.

Developing credible authority

Anyone who wishes to work internally on leadership development must begin with themselves – as is written on the Temple of Apollo. They must take the thorny path of self-knowledge in order to radiate credible authority vis-à-vis young talents, especially when dealing with Generations Y and Z. Young talents often stick a needle into balloons full of hot air – and the classic alpha leader has already lost the battle if they rely on formal authority rather than developing authentic skill. Modern leadership development simply has to break new ground!

No painful collisions

According to Prof. Fischer, there is a good method for not always beating one's head against the same wall: self-reflection. It allows individuals to make a U-turn in good time – and saves them from being woken up in the long run only by painful collisions. The focus must be directed inwards – by all employees, managers, and especially in leadership development: "Different people react very differently to similar situations", says Prof. Fischer, "but the same person always reacts in the same way to similar situations." If a manager is aware of certain "personality factors", they can adapt more easily to their employees – provided they know exactly which traits and behaviours they themselves display. Those who know themselves also know other people.

Confident bosses do not play power games

In this way, the company gains a large competitive advantage as soon as people pass through the effective school of self-knowledge. Employees who feel that they are taken seriously show a high level of commitment. Anyone who undergoes self-reflective leadership development becomes a confident boss who doesn't keep their head above water by simply playing power games. In other words, substance rather than hot air! The positive consequence of this: Trust is built up within the company, and young talents learn early on that self-confident managers are characterized by an inner attitude and values. This is the core of modern leadership development, which finds its expression in coherent action and reliability. But it also makes it possible to say "no!" where appropriate due to a genuine conviction.

Tricky questions by Aristotle

Aristotle, the teacher of Alexander the Great, also thought about these questions. He presented Alexander with a number of tricky questions – which today would probably be formulated as follows. Examples:1

  • Perseverance: "Am I ready to incur the wrath of a colleague, no longer to be loved by my team, or to contradict my boss outright?"
  • Flexibility: "What changes would I say 'no' to? Would I refuse a restructuring if I had to sacrifice my best employee?"̈
  • Justice: "When do I want to be biased, and when do I want to be neutral? What do I do if I'm ordered from above to stand up to my team or to reprieve loyal co-workers who have done wrong?"

Such questions cannot be answered when catching chickens, but instead require honest self-reflection. What Alexander the Great needed to learn is what is nowadays a concept of leadership development. Companies can use it for young talents, – without any need to involve any element of warfare!

Enabling intellectual freedom

The competitive advantage is obvious: assertiveness, persistence and decisiveness are then terms that are no longer terms confined to job advertisements, but instead become a living reality for young talents undergoing internal leadership development. In addition, they learn how to create their own intellectual freedom in everyday life, in order to be able to calmly reflect on their own actions. The chickens remain behind an intact fence – and the managers can get to grips with questions that will fundamentally determine the future of the company – and do this confidently, empathically and successfully.

1Author not named (2017): ""10 factors that distinguish a self-confident manager"̈, Swiss Engineering Institute, Zurich, Munich, p. 5

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