Leadership training usually does not work. It seems that leadership coaching and mentoring is not that effective either.
In a survey of 200 CIOs, only one leadership-development technique–mentoring or coaching–was rated as highly successful or successful by at least 50 percent of respondents. All others were rated as not successful or only somewhat successful by most respondents. Even mentoring and coaching was rated highly successful by only 14 percent of the CIOs.
MBA-like executive education classes were rated the least effective development technique. “Sending your employees off to a course and expecting them to be an expert and apply the lessons is not as valuable as taking your own time to mentor and grow someone,” says Paul Brady, CIO of Arbella Insurance Group. “It’s not easy–hence the desire to ship employees off to an executive course.” Brenda McGowan, in Network World
Perhaps the problem is the nature of leadership. Is it a skill that can be fairly quickly developed, or rather a craft that takes time to develop? When it comes to crafts, that require much time and practice, modelling may be a better method than shaping. So what exactly is modelling? Here are two examples.
Dr. Clare Brant was the first Aboriginal psychiatrist in Canada and a professor of Psychiatry at University of Western Ontario. In 1982 he presented Mi’kmaq Ethics & Principles, which included an examination of the differences in teaching between native and non-native cultures.
Now the Teaching; Shaping Vs. Modelling
This is a more technical kind of thing. The white people use this method of teaching their children – it’s called ‘shaping’. Whereas the Indians use ‘modelling’. Shaping is B.F. Skinner’s ‘Operant Conditioning”, if you want to look into that one. Say a white person is teaching a white kid how to dress – he uses the shaping method, one way being “rewarding successive approximations” of the behaviour he wants. Some are really complicated; for instance, if a white woman wants to teach her kid how to dress, she puts his sock on halfway and encourages him to pull it up, finishes dressing him and says he’s a good boy having done that much. The next day he learns to pull the whole sock on, then the other sock. Now that process takes about six weeks. But the white mother who does not have all that much to do can take that time to do that sort of thing every morning to teach her kid how to dress. So in this group that we ran, with these young Native people in London, we started to sniff this out, and there is nothing random about this, as a matter of fact. I asked Mary, a Native person, how she taught her kid to dress and she said, “I didn’t, he just did it.” And I said, “Well, what do you mean?” It came to me that she did it until he was four or five years old, and then one day when the kid felt competent, he took over and did it himself. He did it then ever after, unless he was sick or regressed in some way.
Then we asked Josh, a renowned hunter, how his father taught him to hunt. He said, “He didn’t teach me.” Well, that’s ridiculous, everybody has to be taught everything. We are not born with this information. But Josh went on the hunting party and carried ever more of the packs on his back, and stood behind them and held a .22. One day when he was about 14 years, he got into a canoe, and a loaded gun was where he usually sat. He knew at that point it was his turn to make the kill, that this was ‘the day’ that he was to become a man. He was enormously frightened but did make the kill correctly, appropriately through the process of ‘modelling’. Now Mary modelled how to dress for years. Then one day the kid took over and did it when he felt confident. The people and father in the hunting modelled hunting behaviour, and then suddenly, “Okay, you’re ready to do it, and you can do it forever.”
Shaping can work when the task to be done is straight-forward, time is of the essence, and the learner is ready. In the cases above, time was needed. For complex behaviours like leadership, consisting of several skills, modelling may be best, as there is much implicit knowledge to be learned, which takes time. Education and training usually don’t provide the time for enough reflective practice. As long-time painter Stephen Scott has noted, most of what he knows about the technique of oil painting he learned on his own after leaving the university. Management and leadership are similar types of abilities.
Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory posits that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. The theory has often been called a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation.
If we look at how organizational training & development has functioned over the past half century, it has been mostly separate from the work being done and focused on shaping behaviours. But the valued work in the enterprise is shifting, as it increases in variety and decreases in standardization. There is strong evidence that we need to integrate learning into our work in order to deal with the increasing complexity of knowledge work. Modelling is integrative, while shaping is usually external and out of the work context.
Consider also that as knowledge expands and new information is constantly added, who has the base knowledge to do the ‘shaping’ anyway? In our networked world, modelling behaviours may be a better strategy than shaping on any pre-defined curriculum. As can be seen by Dr. Brant’s second example, with modelling, the learner is progressively supported. In connected leadership, people can be both teachers and learners. Therefore neither training programs, nor coaching are enough. Leadership by example becomes the key.