Interview with Dr Steffen Raub, Full Professor of Organizational Behavior at EHL, on the nuances of leadership development: What it really means to lead and how to teach leadership development in practice.
Q: Leadership development - how to best approach it?
For me, there are three different angles from which you can tackle the topic of leadership in general and the aspect of how to develop leaders more specifically.
For this reason, in our Leadership Development curriculum at EHL, we try to give our participants the tools to get a better understanding of who they actually are. This is typically done through a variety of self assessments that focus on their personality, their personal values and objectives that may attract them towards or lead them to avoid certain job environments. We also look at factors that can lead to problems in their career development, (i.e. factors that can lead to ‘derailment’). We aim to give our learners a better picture of who they are, what they want, where they want to go, and what features in themselves could promote their advancement or, alternatively, hinder their progress as leaders.
2. Understanding leadership styles
It is important to analyze the different styles with which you can lead other people, beginning with very basic concepts, such as task-oriented versus relations-oriented leadership, or more recent contributions like, for instance, transactional and transformational leadership. A better understanding of what makes you effective as a leader implies knowing these frameworks and drawing the appropriate conclusions from them. This is another important element that we cover in our Leadership Development curriculum.
An effective approach to analyzing leadership effectiveness for me, is anything that can be classified as a ‘situational model’. The idea is that leadership styles are usually not ‘one size fits all’, but they have to suit the situation in which you find yourself. Different people need to be led differently at different times. Situational models give you a better understanding of how you can fit what you do as a leader to what is required in a particular situation.
3. Mastering fundamental skills
The third point is that, of course, leadership is just a facet of what every manager needs to do. Managers have to play different roles, and one of these will be to lead other people. So there is, of course, a skills-based element to leadership. I believe if you want to be a good leader, you need to master a certain number of fundamental skills which involve productive and effective decision making in a variety of situations, interacting productively with team-based structures in organizations and leading teams effectively, especially in our currently uncertain VUCA times. Very often, this also involves the ability to deal with change and to lead change initiatives in organizations. We explicitly cover all these topics in our Leadership Development course and we give students a variety of exercises, case studies and even computer-based simulations to enhance their leadership skills with regard to decision making, team leadership and leadership of change.
Q: Leadership soft skills such as empathy, active listening, negotiation, servant leadership: What is their role in what you teach?
These are all interesting concepts and have an important place in what we teach. I personally find servant leadership a particularly interesting approach. I believe that one of the most noble roles that a leader can play is to actually enhance capabilities in subordinates, allowing them to perform and shine. In the end, this is of the greatest benefit to any leader: to themselves, their teams and the entire organization.
Q: Your top 5 leadership development tips?
1. Master the nuts and bolts of your business
You do not have to be the greatest expert in everything, but you have to be credible and know the ins and outs of your business. You must be able to demonstrate to your subordinates that you understand the jobs they are doing and what they are supposed to achieve. This does not mean that you have to be better than your subordinates at the specific tasks they are doing, but you need to be able to connect.
2. Be authentic
Be yourself, be approachable, be available. Leadership brings power and power can corrupt people. Remember that there is more to life than just reaching the next quarterly objectives. Give yourself a reality check from time to time and make sure you keep surrounding yourself with people who will be frank with you and give you transparent feedback.
3. Be respectful
As leaders we interact with humans. Treat them as you would want to be treated. Do not treat your subordinates as if they were only cogs in a wheel but accept and respect them as human beings. We all have aspirations and needs, so try to understand what their aspirations and needs are, and lead them in such a way so that what they are supposed to do for the organization and what they want for themselves is as aligned as possible.
4. Understand the power of empowerment
Try to empower your team and show your support in this whenever possible, even if that means tolerating occasional ambiguity and uncertainty.
5. Cultivate positive thinking
Last but not least, people do not like to follow grumpy and pessimistic leaders. Aim for optimistic and upbeat, even in situations where your analytical sense tells you that there might be reasons for being otherwise.
Lastly, leadership develops over time
The Leader Development course lasts 40 hours. We give our students many different topics and a huge number of insights. Of course, what they make of it all becomes visible later – sometimes a few months, years or maybe even a decade after they leave this class. This is what I actually tell them on day one: “Don't assume that I will turn you into a better leader in five days”. These practices take time to be assimilated and then put into practice.