Leadership that lasts

Is management or leadership training a short-term choice or an opportunity to nurture and sustain an organisation?

My dad was, for a long time, an estates manager – managing large country estates, usually for titled families. His job was to oversee and sustain the overall system — ensuring healthy livestock, the management of arable land, crop production, supporting families who lived on estate lands, maintenance of the estate…it was a complex job, a complex ecosystem.

On Saturday mornings, I would get up really early and he would make me a mug of tea and take me out “on the rounds” — basically driving around the boundaries of the estate, with a dictaphone, and he would get out, inspect stuff, walk bits of fields, check fences and hedges, go see the dairy manager…. During those rounds, he talked to me a lot about the land and the decisions you make to nurture, sustain and maintain for the long-term. My dad had a real sense of custodianship about the estates — he and we were only here for a brief time — the land endured and what we did with it mattered. We needed to make a living from it. It needed to be cultivated carefully. It needed to be respected. He made short-term choices with the long-term consequence in mind.

I find some of his philosophy bubbling up in my design thinking these days. That management or leadership training could very well just be a short-term choice, but if you are looking to nurture and sustain, if you want the organisation to thrive and endure beyond your time in it, then longer-term thinking and actions help greatly.

Management training happens in almost every organisation I work with. What would happen if, rather than repeating the same training, the same messages, rearranged over 3- 4 days or 6 weeks or whatever, we looked at management skills as being life skills? That to plan stuff, to organise and galvanise folk to deliver anything, to have conversations and listen well and notice when others are struggling and support them through that, doing “the rounds” and checking the parameters, staying in touch with the wider system and community… this isn’t just management… it’s just being a good person.

A good person in a particular context.

Which might change.

But the good person part endures.

So how about we run stuff that encourages good personship? Not codify it as management (much of the stuff we spew out about “management” is old hat and barely works outside a classroom — especially if there are more than 3 things to remember about it) — let’s just work on the basics.

If you are currently designing management training content, stop for a second and have a look at what you are putting out into that organisation. Will it develop better people? Not skill sets or processes to follow. But people?

Keep it simple.

Listen. Talk.

Pay attention to the here and now.

Work with what is here and don’t pretend or wish it were otherwise.

Understand what we do and why we do it and how we could do it better for the long term.

Look to the future.

Understand what nurtures and sustains.

That stuff is designed to last.