There’s a theme that keeps coming up over and over in our line of work: knocking it out of the park in today’s challenging and fast-changing business world requires one heck of a good manager. Or, to be more accurate, a whole bunch of heck-of-good managers.
This is one reason we’re over the moon to announce that we’ve joined forces with leadership development / leadership capability whizzes Michelle Fanfarillo and Bill Harrison. Their groundbreaking work helping leaders become better able to meet the challenges of today’s world of work is a perfect complement to the work we do working with companies to get that win-win of happy people and great organizational performance.
The other reason we’re thrilled that they’ve joined the tribe is because, frankly, they are delightful people. In an effort for all of you to get to know them, too, I recently chatted with them both to get a little insight into who they are and what they do.
Katie: We call what you do “leadership development” or “leadership capability”, but can you tell us what that actually means in the real world?
Bill: We provide developmental experiences for those in any type of leadership position so they gain the KASH (Knowledge, Attitude, Skills, and Habits) required to lead well. And by this, I don’t just mean putting leaders in a classroom and telling them facts. These attributes all come through experience, coaching, and practice; they are developed through self-awareness and awareness of others, through understanding how others operate at an emotional level. This is why I say we provide “development experiences” rather than “teach”.
We need to pay attention to how we’re connecting with people, because as a leader (or anyone, frankly), how people engage with you ultimately springs from how you made them feel. That’s what connects people to their leader.
Michelle: at an even more basic level, we work with leaders and managers to help them understand themselves and others so they can better engage with their employees… which allows them to get the most out of their people. You know how it is when you work with someone with poor people skills, how bad that makes you feel? We need to pay attention to how we’re connecting with people, because as a leader (or anyone, frankly), how people engage with you ultimately springs from how you made them feel. That’s what connects people to their leader. And that’s what we help with.
Katie: Can you remember a real “a-ha” moment? Some specific time when things really fell into place for you on the leadership development front?
Bill: The first time I was exposed to a true tech environment was when I joined Intel Corporation. It was clear that tech companies have a different way of thinking and organizing themselves. I realized then that there isn’t just one way to do it – everything, every development program — needs to be tailored. What works in one organization won’t work in others. It’s been my practice ever since to create a connection with the leaders of the specific organization, rather than some cookie-cutter program. It’s allowed me to achieve much better results.
I realized then that there isn’t just one way to do it – everything, every development program — needs to be tailored. What works in one organization won’t work in others.
Michelle: At one point I was a development consultant for 140 leaders, VPs. And among those 140 people there were so many different personalities and situations, such a fascinating level of diversity, despite the fact that they came from the same company. It taught me that you have to meet people where they are — that you need to be able to coach people at the level they need to be coached. It was a realization that took my approach to leadership development to a whole new level. Wow, can you tell we work together?
Katie: What makes you love what you do?
Michelle: Oh, wow. Really the thing that spurs me on the most is when people are engaged in that learning process – when they become willing to really do the work to change. That is just so great. It’s amazing. They start to see their potential; they start to have hope. That is so thrilling for me.
Everybody is extremely complex, and comes with a whole history of successes and challenges. You need to give people the space and tools to figure things out for themselves.
Bill: There is nothing as amazing as making a connection with a leader or a group of leaders that leads to a teachable moment… That place where you see that their awareness has been raised in a way that will allow them to reach the next level of leadership capability, where you see them become a better leader. There’s nothing like that.
Katie: Is there anything you’ve learned about people that you’d like to share with us?
Michelle: Yes, that everybody is extremely complex, and comes with a whole history of successes and challenges. You need to give people the space and tools to figure things out for themselves. [Laughs] I guess what I’ve discovered about people is that I don’t know much about them – people are so multifaceted. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know much.
Bill: I’ve developed the belief that intelligence and traditional education aren’t the big factors in great leadership. The most important factors are people’s strengths, their attitude, and their willingness to explore those strengths. I believe any problem can be solved as long as you can reach that person’s heart and mind. It’s not the best and the brightest that make the best leaders, it’s those who have taken what they have and thoroughly and honestly investigated their own potential.
Katie: Do you have a takeaway you’d like to leave us with?
Bill: the world is so complex now that leaders aren’t naturally able to handle it well. You have to deliberately develop the capability to lead in today’s VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world. Having development programs in place to help your org develop leadership capability will be a huge driver of success. People just can’t do it on their own – the world is too complex and fast-paced.
Intelligence and traditional education aren’t the big factors in great leadership. The most important factors are people’s strengths, their attitude, and their willingness to explore those strengths.
Michelle: I honestly believe that the only time you need to worry is if you’ve stopped thinking of your own development. Development is a life-long journey; one we all need to continue. I only worry when people think they’ve figured it all out, that they are done. At its core, leadership development is really personal development — and that’s something we should never stop pursuing.