Q&A: Capability Group on modern leadership in sustainability

25 November 2015

Find out how Capability Group encourages potential leaders to implement change within their organisation in this interview with Director Drew McGuire.

With a 30 year history focusing on organisational development and change management, Capability Group uses evidence based research to encourage potential leaders to explore effective leadership styles and implement change.  

The Sustainable Business Network has teamed up with Capability Group to create the Lead and Influence Sustainability course to help sustainability champions effectively understand the complex systemic and behavioural changes required to undertake company or industry transformation to a more sustainable path.

In this Q&A Drew talks about personal growth, leadership strategies, the importance of failing and the skills it takes to learn from those failures.

In conjunction with SBN, Capability Group is running the Lead and Influence Sustainability course. How did you develop the course?

We did a lot of research around the latest findings from neuroscience, behavioural psychology, leadership development and how to manage change.

We distilled it down to key leadership and design principles (see below) and focussed on what people need to be able to influence change more effectively in their organisations. From those design principles we identified key elements that will really bring about mind-set shifts and behaviour change with attendees.

The design principles for the programme were:

  • Involve key stakeholders in the design process
  • Mind-set shift and behaviour change takes time
  • Involve all key stakeholders in the learning process to share their knowledge, and support participants to embed mind-set shift and behaviour changes
  • Learning is dynamic, not linear
  • Focus on application of new learning rather than delivery of content
  • Build skills and behaviours by doing, not telling
  • Learn from each other’s experiences – collective enquiry, dialogue, shared experience and expertise, storytelling
  • Opportunity to reinforce key elements of the desired culture
  • Always recognise and cater to different learning styles
  • Require learners’ ownership of and commitment to the process
  • Focus on action learning and the process of reflection

What separates the Lead and Influence Sustainability course from other leadership courses?

Learning takes time and people hear things at different times. All the research shows (over the last 80 years) that within 30 days of attending a workshop you’re lucky if you remember 5-10 per cent of it. So what we know is that to create behaviour change you need a longitudinal programme of some description.

Another design principle is learning by doing. Seventy per cent of your learning should be by doing (on the job), 20 per cent by coaching and 10 per cent by formal e-learning or workshops. We’ve created a six month programme but the critical time is when people are applying what they’ve learnt on the job and figuring out what does and doesn’t work for them and then bringing it back into the next session.

There’s a lot of success with our learning model and you really get some amazing shifts in mind set and behaviour changes.

Sometimes people who consider themselves leaders aren’t in leadership roles within their organisation. What will the course do for them?

The programme is structured around people figuring out what leadership means to them and building an understanding of what’s important to them, what their strengths are and how they’re perceived by others, and developing a really good understanding of that and figuring out what it means from them in a leadership point of view.

We’ve structured the programme so people come to their own realisation based on their context and have their own view on leadership and practice and learn something based on the kind of person they are.

To be honest I think position in the hierarchy can be completely irrelevant in leadership. We create programmes around different types of leaders in organisations and some organisations are now moving to the idea of personal leadership which includes accountability.

Once someone has navigated those complexities, one of the other challenges they can face is getting colleagues onside. What’s your advice?

The programme is structured to work through a series of things: what’s important to you, what are your values, how do they align with your organisation, and what are your concepts around leadership. The course then moves into self and others’ perception, and communication styles and influence across the organisation.

For the attendee there would be learning and realisation about themselves around how they’re perceived by others. They’d focus on developing a better understanding of the communication styles and motivations of others to give them the chance to be a better influencer.

Influence is about understanding context, the organisation’s politics such as who is going to resist, and who is going to be a champion. Those are considerations to be made among equals and when considering the hierarchy.

One of the things they would take away from the course is an understanding of context and relationships and the nature of the way things play out, and how things get done in their context. This will help them to strategise around what they want to achieve and how. 

How does a good leader deal with setbacks?

My approach is that you’re treating everything as a learning experience, either good or bad, or easy or difficult. Think about why things work really well and why something is challenging, and figure out to what degree you’re contributing and what’s out of your control. It’s about understanding your realm of influence.

Approaching leadership with a learning orientation means you seek to understand why it didn’t work or went well. That means asking questions, showing humility and focussing on the things you can impact I think understanding your realm of influence is critical to not beating yourself up too much. And don’t play the blame game because it’s not about that, it’s about what you can do differently.

With all of that considered, what does it mean to be a leader to you?

Taking a broad definition of leadership, one of the key things for me is around accountability. Have I taken accountability around everything I’ve done? Absolutely. I take strong accountability on things and I think that’s a big component of leadership.

I’m a good listener, I have strong empathy, I get really excited about the things that are possible now and in the future so I think I’m good at painting a compelling picture of where we’re going and where we want to be.  I think what I also try to do is have a sense of humour because we do some really hard stuff, so I try to bring a measure of lightness around what we’re doing alongside the seriousness and importance and a way to have fun.

The Sustainable Business Network has designed the Lead and Influence Sustainability course in conjunction with the Capability Group. The course will teach you to become an effective and influential change maker within your organisation to respond to the ever complex sustainability challenges that we are facing. To find out more or register email julia@sustainable.org.nz.