Are we developing the necessary attributes in our leaders?

Do you believe certain things are cyclical? The seasons, the economy, fashion? How about Management Education?

Sometimes I pick up an old book and revisit its words, and apply those words to my current world view. It’s amazing how each time you do this those very same words can take on new meaning, based upon your current reality. So it was when I revisited the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

This book has become a bit of a bible to the personal development world, and rightly so – its rich in content, grounded in examples and provides some sound ideas to help us all move forward. But on this occasion when reading it, I was struck by some words written in the very first few pages of the book. Here Covey talks about the Character Ethic versus the Personality Ethic. Let me paraphrase his words:

Character Ethic: Before the 1950’s the world of management education and training focused upon the character ethic. This was on personal traits such as values, principles, honesty, integrity & trust.

Personality Ethic: Since the 1950’s the world of management education and training has moved towards the personality ethic, this is to say it has focused much more on the power of personality, the use of slogans/mantra’s and the development of tools to help you perform better.

For me I see the Character Ethic as focusing on the things that cement the human elements of being a manager/leader and the Personality Ethic very much focused on getting things done or the transactional elements of being a manager/leader.

Covey talks about effectiveness being built upon the Character Ethic, these are the foundations of effective long term performance. The personality ethic he likens to being much more like a ‘sticking plaster’, finding ways to solve problems without ever really addressing the route cause.

So do we think this shift identified by Covey is having a positive or negative impact upon the leaders within our modern world?

At a purely anecdotal level I see the consequences of this shift so often when running workshops or training events. I see delegates all around the room rub their hands with glee when those magic words are uttered ‘Let me share with you a really good way to….’, and in stark contrast I see the twists of awkwardness in the room when you utter the words ‘So let’s explore our values’.

Have we over the last 10 years started to see the real impact of this ‘Personality’ approach to management education?

  • Would our banks, for so long the trusted cornerstone of our society, have acted with such a disdain for their customers best interests, if their leadership had held true to the character ethic?
  • Would our political leaders have got so far removed from the realities of people’s lives had their education been founded on the traits of the character ethic as opposed to the allure and attraction of the personality ethic?
  • Does the increasing ‘revolving door’ approach to our senior leaders in business reflect that leadership has become increasingly short term and situational?

So where next?

As we look forwards to training and educating the leaders of today and the future leaders of tomorrow is there value in first focusing on the foundations, the pillars that cement human relationships before we move onto the transactional elements of their role?

I fear that in a world where the priorities of our corporate leaders are to achieve shareholder returns, where venture capitalists adopt a ‘return or burn’ mind set and our political leaders are driven by the ‘re-election’ imperative then finding justification to spend time investing in the foundations, when a ‘sticking plaster’ will do for now, is going to be difficult. After all to use one of those slogans Covey hints at – ‘Time is Money’.

I do hope that indeed the world of education and training is cyclical, and that as we look out on a world shrouded in economic and political uncertainty those with responsibility for shaping its future can find a justification to introduce those principles of the Character Ethic back into the world of management education & training. I strongly believe our societies will be better served by having leaders who understand the value of relationships, shared interest and trust.

So in the words of Martin Luther King ‘If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values’.

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What’s the future of Management/Leadership Education

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