Collaboration has become one of those words. Used by everyone, to cover everything, providing the solution for all problems. A recent HBR article by Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant says it all “Collaborative Overload”. Collaboration as an ...

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"Proof of Leadership Blog" - 5 new articles

  1. Collaboration! (when it’s needed)
  2. Developing your people: 5 simple ways to achieve this new leadership performance target
  3. 9 ways to design valued and brilliant leadership development programs
  5. Getting real: leadership development for real people
  6. More Recent Articles

Collaboration! (when it’s needed)


Collaboration has become one of those words.

Used by everyone, to cover everything, providing the solution for all problems. A recent HBR article by Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant says it all “Collaborative Overload”.

Collaboration as an important leadership capability

Despite its overuse, collaboration has become one of the top leadership capabilities required by organisations for a reason. It’s a critical gap in capability for most organisations.

Innovation and collaboration for business results

Product innovation, reducing time to market, and sourcing new customers is increasingly critical for all types of businesses from finance to food manufacturing. Particularly when small, agile competitors are using new products to boost sales and grab market share.

So the temptation is to do more of the same, to increase production, increase targets and to reduce costs, including development of people. And at the same time focus on individual results as a way of achieving business results.

However, complex situations require different behaviours, collective behaviours, and in particular collaboration because complex situations require diverse approaches to create successful solutions.

But most of our business heritage has rewarded delivery of individual responses to problems, even as our research and experience is telling us that to respond to our increasingly complex and global business environments, we have to be more collective, collaborative and network oriented[i].

So if you’re a leader or a HR professional responsible for developing capability, how do you respond to this call for collaboration?

Developing collaborative leadership capability

Collaboration is essentially getting the right people together at the right time to achieve a result or solve a complex problem.

It seems to be counter-intuitive, but taking time to skill people in key capabilities, even when you are under pressure, can support innovation in business.

This approach does a number of things – it not only skills people up, but it also says it’s OK to allocate time to change, and that there is a senior leadership expectation that change will happen.

How do you develop collaborative capability?

First of all, understand the skills and processes required for effective collaboration.

Identify whether collaboration is really required

Getting smart about when collaboration is needed and is not – is crucial. Sometimes it seems like collaboration is needed to solve a problem, particularly when there are a lot of stakeholders involved. And getting together with people often feels good. But if there is a solution to the issue you’re confronting and people are agreed on what needs to happen – collaboration isn’t required.

Understand the difference between adaptive and technical issues

Following on from the first point, Heifetz and Linsky provide a good focus on how to differentiate and define “technical” situations verses those that require “adaptive” solutions including collaboration and collaborative leadership.

Recognise that collaboration isn’t an individual sport

From experience and research, key skills required for collaboration include the ability to:

  • influence group dynamics and development
  • facilitate group sessions using participatory and other techniques
  • build trusting relationships through strong interpersonal skills
  • understand own and others’ mental models, values, assumptions and behavioural responses
  • assess stakeholder needs and analyse the best ways to engage them
  • understand and influence the broader political context related to the issue
  • use conflict to “raise or lower the heat” [1]
  • deal with a level of ambiguity and lack of control flexibly.

 Start the collaboration well

From the start of the collaboration great leaders do some key things:

  • Do a stakeholder assessment and ensure that a broad brush is taken to which stakeholders need to be involved or kept informed about the collaboration
  • Create a core group that will progress the issue at the heart of the collaboration and seek assurances they will stay with the project
  • Collectively create a shared vision, agreed set of behaviours to help manage group dynamics and conflict
  • Use good project management strategies including regularly informing stakeholders of progress, even if it’s only a shift in process (for example formation of the core group) – these are key milestones in a collaborative effort
  • Be aware of and manage the politics around this type of project or activity both within the core group and with other stakeholders
  • Set up metrics to measure the success and outcomes of the collaboration.

Deal with blockages to collaboration

Successful collaboration requires a good understanding of the issues that can block collaboration:

  • Structural issues such as governance, legal and regulatory tradition
  • Barriers to trust including competition amongst stakeholders
  • Lack of time – it often takes significant time to achieve a visible outcome through collaboration
  • Lack of awareness and dialogue about the assumptions each person brings with them
  • Difficulty in evaluating achievements or outcomes
  • No clear boundaries about the collaborative context
  • Poor management of conflict or the “undiscussables”
  • Stakeholders adding to the complexity of the environment and the task. 

Measure and communicate results

The results of collaboration are often hard to measure and to communicate, because they cannot be ascribed to one individual or team, but it is possible to create metrics to test whether the collaboration is delivering tangible results from the collaboration.

For example:

  • Faster time to market for new products
  • Improved customer service through collaboration across business units
  • Improved relationships with a community affected by your business
  • Reduced business costs associated with a product or service.

And recognizing everyone’s contribution to the collaboration means they are more likely to get engaged in the future.

Then you aim to develop collaborative capability

What leadership development approaches can support development of collaborative capabilities?

Experience indicates that the strongest shift in collaborative performance comes through the careful design of development -i.e. good collaboration doesn’t happen by accident. Ways you can build capability include:

  • Structure it up: by providing structured development and time out for those involved in the collaboration, collectively working together
  • Recognize new capabilities: the design of the development needs to focus on building the capabilities outlined above and they are different from those generally expected and rewarded
  • Involve senior leaders: complex challenges require whole of enterprise responses and resources, and senior leaders need to be part of the learning
  • Use practical real work issues: as the foundation of this development activity, rather than relying on case studies from other contexts
  • Create on-the-job opportunities: to work on the collaborative project through action learning processes
  • Feedback on development of the collective: skill the group in understanding not only how to collaborate but also how they are working together as part of this collaboration – feedback in real time
  • Recognise results: use the program to recognize the achievements of the group involved in the collaboration.

Taking your next step

When the call for collaboration next goes out, use the ideas in this blog to test the call, and if collaboration is required for a complex business project, create a structured approach to ensuring it’s successful.


[i] Van Velsor, E. (2008). A Complexity Perspective on Leadership Development. In Complexity Leadership Part 1: Conceptual Foundations. M. Uhl-Bien and R. Marion. Charlotte, North Carolina, Information Age Publishing Inc. 1: 333-346

Corporate Executive Board (2015) Enterprise Leaders Improve Team Outcomes, p. 9

Ramo, J C (2016) The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune and Survival in the Age of Networks, Little, Brown and Company New York

Heifetz, R. A., Linsky, M., & Grashow, A. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press.



Developing your people: 5 simple ways to achieve this new leadership performance target


As part of wrapping up 2016 I’ve been reviewing “most requested” capabilities required of leaders in 2017.

And the winner is…developing people.

Organisations expect leaders to focus on revenue targets, customer service targets, and productivity targets.

But increasingly leaders are also are expected demonstrate how they are developing people for performance and as talent.

Here I’ve identified 5 (relatively) simple ways to develop your people.

1. Making sure they know what’s expected

A key element of this is feedback. As I said in my 9 ways to design valued and brilliant leadership development programs article, we mostly mess up feedback – it’s outsourced to surveys and responsibility for results is targeted at the survey process, instead of the feedback givers and the individuals involved. Creating structured, well-timed, and regular feedback can help people identify strengths and career-limiting blindspots.

The other key element is encouraging forward planning. I’m constantly surprised by the number of organisations not doing forward planning at the individual level. It may be that this is tangled up in concerns about performance plans and remuneration, but knowing is expected for the year, helps people to focus and achieve results – in cognitive neuroscience terms it can create certainty and reduce anxiety.

Development can be embedded into planning, with opportunities for project leadership, contribution ensuring that learning on the job is both planned for and recognised.

2.   Developing leadership mindsets

The ability to be flexible and build strategic mental habits is emerging as a crucial capability for leaders and for development. It can particularly assist developing leaders with:

  • understanding and changing mindset habits
  • responding to values and ethical challenges
  • decision-making and problem solving
  • collaborating with and influencing others[i][ii].

See a great article on the Neuroscience of Strategic Leadership

3. Getting out of the way

There are two things that are useful for leaders to consider here:

  • Giving their people opportunities and getting out of the way
  • Ensuring reflection is a structured activity for direct reports, talent, and teams
Providing opportunity

For leaders, having a developmental mindset often means taking a deep breath and giving someone a chance to be part of a new project, or team, or to do something innovative. BUT, it can bring up emotional responses that leaders generally ignore. These emotional responses can include fears that key performance targets won’t be achieved or concern about potential failures reflecting on leadership “brand”.

Enabling reflection

Reflective learning requires each individual to explore “how” as well as “what” they are learning. This supports acceleration of the development of not only the individual but also the enterprise and organization- it’s strategic[iii].

Reflecting often isn’t valued in organisations, and someone who says they are spending time reflecting instead of saying “I’m so busy” sets themselves up for some questions…

Leaders have the power to create structures, time and space, to help their people reflect, learn and think strategically through an enabling culture and through structuring in time.

4. Providing opportunities to understand what’s behind the strategy

Taking leaders to the next stage of cognitive development, supporting a shift in mindset, a broader strategic focus, and engagement with ambiguity[1] is becoming a feature of leadership development programs.

But you don’t need to wait for formal leadership development. You can spend time with your people talking about what’s behind the strategy aiming to broaden their perspective and help them understand that strategy is not a document, it’s a series of complex and often uncomfortable decisions and choices.

This, along with encouraging reflective capacity and development of personal leadership capability is crucial for developing talented, authentic and strategic leaders in your organisation.

5. Testing whether you have been successful

So how can you measure whether you’ve been successful in developing your people?

Here are some ideas for metrics and measures:

  • is your business unit seen by senior leaders and clients/customers/stakeholders as producing high quality people?
  • are your team members being promoted at a higher rate than others?
  • is business performance improving?
  • are your people engaged at work?
  • are talented people attracted to working in your team?


[i] Waldman, D. A., Balthazard, P. A., & Peterson, S. J., (2011). Leadership ad neuroscience : can we revolutionise the way that inspirational leaders are identified and developed? Academy of Management Perspectives. (25(1) 66-74.

[ii] See Carol Dweck Mindsets

[iii] See Bob Dick’s work on Action Learning



9 ways to design valued and brilliant leadership development programs



Designing leadership development strategically

About brilliance

There really isn’t much written about how to design and facilitate great leadership development activities, so I’m interested in capturing what has really worked over 20 years of working with more than 10,000 leaders, and of course in working on my PhD which is focused on leadership development practice.

Here are some emerging approaches to leadership development, integrated with some old but good development strategies. When integrated well, they can ramp up leadership capability shift and value to both participants and their organization.

If you would like to talk more, please contact me:


1. Leaders need to experiment

Design thinking is increasingly popular, and the idea of human centered design and “experiments” to test ideas with clients and employees can be adapted to leadership development. Having leaders undertake low risk, low cost leadership and behavior change experiments is proving to be incredibly valuable for our approach to development.

2. Leaders need feedback

We mostly mess up feedback – it’s outsourced to surveys and responsibility for results is targeted at the survey process, instead of the feedback givers and the individuals involved. Creating structured feedback that can help people identify strengths and shift out of blindspots is crucial, particularly early in life, as is owning the results.

3. Leaders develop across time

We all know this, but challenging the current drive for leadership “events” and shallow dives into development is difficult. It is clear that leadership development is more effective where it is “multilevel and longitudinal” rather than on short-term or one-off leadership events[ii] and taking a long-term perspective helps deliver on the 70 of the 70/20/10 if designed well:

  • these approaches ensure the development of enterprise capability and collaboration
  • learning over time also supports learning at work which supports the gradual development of self-efficacy, leadership confidence and identity, interpersonal and intrapersonal processes through giving time to trial new behaviours and reflect on what may be changing
  • this type of development requires sophisticated leadership development design as well as highly experienced facilitation of development and methodologies to support challenge and transfer of learning to work.

4. Leaders need cognitive development

The Centre for Creative Leadership’s Nick Petrie[iii] proposes two distinct areas to focus on to support the development of leaders, following in the footsteps of Robert Kegan and of course Bill Torbert:

  • horizontal development: the transfer technical skills needed for well-defined issues and solutions
  • vertical development: taking leaders to the next stage of cognitive development which will allow a shift in mindset, a broader strategic focus, and engagement with ambiguity.

5. Leaders mindsets are important

Cognitive neuroscience offers ways of new thinking about leadership development including: neuroplasticity; mental habits; mindsets and how the mind works. It can particularly assist leaders with:

  • understanding and changing mindset habits
  • responding to values and ethical challenges
  • decision-making and problem solving
  • collaborating with and influencing others[v][vi].

6. Development needs to be real

Business focused action learning helps explore and resolve critical challenges and opportunities for the organization at the same time as enhancing leadership development and self-awareness[iv]. This is a very intensive boost to development when done well. Leadership development cubed!

7. Reflection accelerates behaviour change

The need to take action and be seen to be taking action is the major driver for leaders in many organisations. So reflection is mostly counter-cultural, but my research into impact indicates it’s one of the program design elements that most supports leaders in making behavioural change[i].

Reflective learning when integrated into development design, requires each individual to explore “how” as well as “what” they are learning. This supports acceleration of the development of not only the individual but also the enterprise and organization.

8. Strengths are often ignored

Positive organisational psychology suggests that leadership development benefits from moving from a purely deficit approach – what needs to be fixed. There is a lot of debate about this, but from my own practice in executive coaching and program design, people rarely focus on their own or others strengths.

And this approach is incredibly valuable to help people:

  • build on strengths that are already in place
  • use leadership development to instigate positive cycles of change
  • support the interpersonal aspects of leadership development[vii]

9. Leadership development value isn’t measured

Measuring value isn’t about ROI. It’s about each person understanding what the value of the program or development has been for them. And about capturing what has changed for both individuals the organization, along with “investors” – those who are funding, supporting and designing the activity.

Little is done about measurement in the leadership development industry. Mostly people rely on how it went on the day – and often on how the facilitator went on the day. This is fraught with danger. Learning can create discomfort, and probably should create discomfort.

Not measuring can also mean that capabilities developed and strategies put in place over time and in the 70% development frame are totally lost to the organization in its thinking about development and talent.

If you would like to talk more, please contact me:





[i] See Bob Dick’s work on Action Learning

[ii] Day, D. V., et al, (2013). Advances in leader and leadership development: A review of 25 years of research and theory. The Leadership Quarterly

[iii] Petrie, N. (2011). Future Trends in Leadership Development, The Centre for Creative Leadership

[iv] McGonagill G. & Pryn, P.W. 2010. Leadership development in the US: principles and patterns of best practice, Bertelsmann Stiftung Brookline, MA, USA, Gutersioh, Germany

[v] Waldman, D. A., Balthazard, P. A., & Peterson, S. J., (2011). Leadership ad neuroscience : can we revolutionise the way that inspirational leaders are identified and developed? Academy of Management Perspectives. (25(1) 66-74.

[vi] See Carol Dweck Mindsets

[vii] Cameron, K. & Spreitzer, G. (Eds) (2012) Oxford handbook of positive organizational scholarship. New York: Oxford University Press.






Seeking the long-term…

We all say that leadership development is important but does it really have impact?

This is particularly important when you are aiming to invest in the development of a key section of your leadership team.


Short-term impact

Some of the short-term (just after the program) indicators of impact can include:

  • People are talking about it positively – both participants and their managers – (there may be some pockets of negative talk and this is useful to investigate)
  • Participants are behaving differently and taking action, and this is being seen by their managers
  • You are seeing more “informal” connections happening across the organisation.

Long-term impact

Research evidence suggests leadership development should deliver long-term impact for:

  • Improved individual, team and organisational performance
  • Improved organisational reputation with external and internal stakeholders
  • Increased agility and ability to lead in complex business environments
  • Strengthened employee engagement and organisational culture
  • Increased attraction and retention of talented people
  • Reducing leader derailment and replacement costs
  • Which all support sustained and sustainable performance

While of course there are many contextual issues that impact upon these type of organisational results, leadership development is a contributor. Some useful research is provided below.


While there is a lot written and researched about leadership development, particularly in relation to the “capabilities/competencies” that need to be delivered and about the “how to” or methods of development, much less is available help us explore what we should seeking through leadership development.

  1. Improved individual, team and organisational performance
  • Organisations with the highest quality leaders were 13 times more likely to out-perform their competition in key bottom-line metrics such as financial performance, quality of products and services, employee engagement and customer satisfaction.[1]
  • High-performing workplaces – characterised by leadership that supports innovation, employee engagement, fairness and customer focus – have profit margins nearly three times higher than low-performing workplaces.[2]
  • These workplaces are better at achieving their financial goals, are stronger at building customer relationships, are more innovative and recognise that leadership capability is fundamental to their success. [3]
  • The recent Study of Australian Leadership (2016) noted that leadership is also foundational to the performance of organisations in more complex business environments.[4]
  1. Improved organisational reputation with stakeholders

Research indicates that the effectiveness of the senior leadership team is regarded as the second most important factor (after financial results) in determining business success [5] and the evidence includes: the quality and reputation of leadership make a significant difference to stakeholder and shareholder support for organisations (research indicates that investment analysts place a premium of 15.75% on effective leadership).[6]

  1. Greater agility and decision-making in a complex operating environment

A recent IBM study, of 1,500 CEOs worldwide, identified complexity as a factor increasingly affecting the leadership capabilities required across organisations [7] and some interesting data includes:

  • While leaders being are being given more responsibility, being asked to achieve more and broader objectives and to deliver results faster, studies suggest that only 7.3% of leaders are considered to have the full skill set of capabilities that are required to work in this complex and emergent environment.[8]
  • Research indicates that some of these new capabilities include:
  • a global cultural perspective;
  • a mindset of growth and openness to understand the environment;
  • an ability to quickly adapt to changing circumstances;
  • a capability to engage people across the business in change; and
  • an ability to identify and respond to complex operating environments.[9]
  1. Improved culture and employee engagement in organisational performance

Leadership quality affects much more than the financial bottom-line; it also affects employee retention and engagement:

  • a recent study has identified organisations with higher-quality leadership as being up to three times more likely to retain more employees than their competition.[10]
  • another study indicates that high performing workplaces have higher levels of commitment and engagement than in other workplaces.[11]
  • High-performing workplaces with effective leaders have better results in attracting and retaining good quality people as well as in building employee engagement and job satisfaction.[12]
  1. Greater organisational ability to attract and retain talented employees

Where talent management in organisations once focused on recruitment, the focus is now broader. Development and support during transition are the keys and the research [13] In this way, organisations can create a culture in which talented individuals can thrive.[14]

  1. Reduction of leadership derailment

Leaders in transition – including moving functional areas or being promoted from individual contributor to management – are particularly vulnerable to disillusionment and derailment.

‘Leadership derailment’ can include behaviours such as poor performance or lack of delivery; not updating leadership style; lacking core skills for new challenges; and poor focus on people development, is expensive for organisations.[15]

Organisations can support transition, and reduce derailment, through: being clear about the capabilities required at each leadership level; establishing mentors for individuals taking up new roles; and requiring that individuals take up leadership development (such as executive coaching) to support transitions.[16]

© Amanda Martin 2016



[1] Boatman, J. & Wellings, R.S. (2011) Global Leadership Forecast. DDI.

[2] Boedker, C., Vidgen, R., Meagher, K., Cogin, A., Mouritsen, J., & Runnalls, J. M., (2011) Leadership, culture and management practices of high performing workplaces in Australia: the high performing workplaces index, Society for Knowledge Economics.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Study of Australian Leadership (SAL) 201, p.23.

[5] Holland, S. & Thom, M. (2012). The leadership premium: How Companies win the confidence of investors. Deloitte.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ancona, D. (2005). Leadership in an Age of Uncertainty. MIT Leadership Centre.

[8] CEB. The rise of the network leader: reframing leadership in the new work environment. Executive Guidance for 2014.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Boatman, J. & Wellings, R.S., op.cit.

[11] Study of Australian Leadership (SAL) 201, p.26.

[12] Deloitte 2013 Human Capital Trends 2013 Leading Indicators. Deloitte: U.S. edition.

[13] Deloitte 2013 Human Capital Trends 2013 Leading Indicators. Deloitte: U.S. edition.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Bumker, Kram, & Ting, 2002; Hughes, Ginnett & Curphy, 2008.

[16] Watkins, M. (2003). The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.




Getting real: leadership development for real people



Version 2

Idealised call for “tree” leadership, Carlton 2012


What’s important in leadership development

Last year Jeffery Pfeffer challenged those working on the development of leaders to move beyond simple recipes for great leaders because the recipes aren’t working[i]

He says they aren’t working because the list of capabilities required of leaders aren’t real. They focus on an idealised world where, for example, leaders don’t lie and are always authentic.

The pressure on leaders

The need to aim for an unattainable ideal of behaviour, emotional stability and vision may be decreasing leaders’ interest in developing capability as a leader.

And as Pfeffer says, it’s likely that an idealised view of leadership is ignoring what it really takes to lead our organisations today.

What does this mean for the development of leadership capability?

My PhD research examines the practice of leadership development. I’ve also been establishing, facilitating, and designing leadership development programs for more than 20 years and more than 10,000 people (I know it sounds  a lot but I’ve developed programs for large organisations, education, health and also for the state public sector system in Queensland Australia). I have also evaluated the impact of leadership development for organisations from the Cape York (Australia) Indigenous Leadership Program to global companies like Nestle Malaysia and Singapore.

There are some fundamentals that I’ve learnt – based on my experience and impact measurement evidence, and also based on leadership development academic research.

Developing real, impactful, leaders

  • Leadership can be learnt but it requires time and space and program designs need to provide time for sensemaking, for exploring personal perceptions, practicing change, seeking feedback on behavioural patterns and leadership impact, facilitated by experts in experiential and group learning, and supplemented by other expertise, generally including coaching
  • Leadership in context – for leaders to get engaged, development has be crafted to recognise and relate to their organisational context and their lives – this will mean the program is much more likely to be embedded in post-program behaviours
  • Development recognises strengths leaders bring. And this is incredibly energizing and different from their experience of many leadership development activities that are focused on gaps or how far they are from the ideal – for more see the work of Kim Cameron, Jane E Dutton and Robert (Bob) E Quinn
  • Integrated learning includes exploring leadership through academic models and theories; along with stories of leaders and organisations; active reflection; promoting the practice of new behaviours; receiving feedback that is about them – which together ramps up the impact results
  • Learning and unlearning takes time, so programs need to be designed to recognise that leaders take time to build awareness of changes they need/want to make and then to actually undertake the change, modular programs held over time – edutainment it isn’t
  • Focus on what can be taken back to work – working with participants to understand how they can take what they have learnt back and embed it in the complexity and chaos of the real world of work. See Nita Cherry’s book on Energising Leadership for some great tips
  • Help to understand impact – new changes in behaviour are often subtle and leaders may not notice that they have changed, so providing methods of reflection, for example interviewing them some time after the program has ended, can help them recognise what has changed and celebrate success.

Great leadership development has a flow on effect, it’s not only good for leadership at work but it’s good for life at home – this is one of my ways of informally measuring the impact of a program.

What’s real about this approach is that it focuses on where people are at and provides them with many ways to move to where they want to be, and where they need to be to lead organisations.


I’d been alerted to Jeffery Pfeffer’s book through a presentation by Bob Quinn at the Academy of Management in Anaheim in August and was intrigued to learn more about the leadership industry critiquing the leadership industry.

I’d like to acknowledge the work of my colleague Professor Michael Fischer, whose article on transforming leadership development I found recently, after I’d developed my “list” above. Michael and I work together on the Leadership and Change in Healthcare Program for Melbourne Business School and it’s great working with colleagues who have similar thinking about leadership and its development.





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