To ask a child to perform a piece of music, in front of her peers using an instrument she has never touched before, would rightly be regarded as cruel. Prior to the performance she should not only learn to read music and listen to others playing the same piece, she should also practice playing her instrument in private.
Why is it then that we expect our bright young employees to step into management roles having read books and attended courses, yet never having actually practiced leading a team? Play, in music and business, is the best way to learn; it allows us to experience success and learn from our mistakes in safety.
In the workplace opportunities abound for talented individuals to practice leadership before formally taking on the mantle. Effective succession planning can include giving junior staff opportunities to take responsibility during team meetings, to facilitate conference programmes or deliver internal presentations. But like tinkering at a piano it’s unlikely that this alone will be enough to prepare someone to lead a team well.
Better still is to build practical exercises into leadership training. This tests theories and provides opportunities for participants to reflect on their personal leadership style. A simple yet effective leadership game involves asking a group of six potential leaders to erect a tent. All but one of the six participants is blindfolded, leaving the sighted participant as leader. He can give verbal instructions but not touch the tent in any way. After five minutes swap roles so that the sighted participant puts on a blindfold and another player removes their blindfold and takes the lead. Continue changing roles every five minutes noting which leaders give encouragement, feed back progress, ask effective questions and remain calm.
This is just one of hundreds of exercises or games that bring leadership development to life, creating long lasting memories that remain long after the management theories found in books fade.
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