John Adair: In pursuit of a global leadership strategy
In the final part of our series, leadership development guru John Adair explains to features editor Louise Druce why effective leadership programmes need to begin on a global scale.
In the midst of the seismic shift from old style command-and-control management to the concept of leadership, a need for political buy-in has emerged, says leadership guru John Adair. But it's a daring move that will require commitment from the very highest levels.
He has devised a five-point approach to a global leadership development strategy, all based on a core body of knowledge that has emerged. But while governments are placing high value on leadership, they need to rethink how they approach it for this strategy to take shape and have a place firmly on the map. "One of the lazy things governments have done is to simply outsource their leadership to business schools, a hopeless strategy. Bodies like the BBC that have done this rued the day and spent a lot of money to little effect," says Adair.
"For the first time in the history of the world, we have to provide opportunities for political leaders to meet each other, form networks and explore the nature of good leadership and leadership for good."
Step one: Focus on political leadership
"The only group in the world that are excluded from any form of leadership development or reflectional thinking about leadership is political leaders," says Adair. "That is no longer sustainable because the world is moving into a new era where we have global problems and, therefore, we have to develop a new level of leadership in the government/political field."
However, he believes you need to look beyond existing heads and target the people around five years away from cabinet level responsibility, providing them with the opportunity to get together and relate to problems we are facing on a world level, such as global warming and the AIDS epidemic.
The United Nations is starting to embrace this idea – Adair has just been appointed chair of leadership studies at the organisation and secretary-general Ban Ki-moon recently gave a speech recognising the challenge of global leadership. But it is also working out ways to contribute to leadership development on the ground.
Step two: Help countries to develop their own leadership strategies
Adair believes that while leadership should be global, it also needs to be national. For example, he cites the Madagascar model. The country's president has not only conducted leadership programmes with his cabinet, he has also set up a national centre for leadership studies to help the country improve leadership in all sectors.
"We need to identify national strategies for growing and developing leaders, and then support that and make it possible," says Adair – particularly, he adds, in developing countries. "In terms of development aid, we've chucked a lot of money at lots of problems but we haven't done anything to develop leaders to solve them for themselves," he continues. "If you look at fragile states like Afghanistan, what have we done to train and develop leaders there? The answer is nothing and that's because bodies such as the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and other donors and government agencies have been ignorant of what can be done and lacked vision."
In the case of Afghanistan, Adair suggests encouraging the formation of a group of 10-12 senior people from sectors such as education and health to work with the UN and other global organisations on devising a leadership strategy, which would include leadership programmes within Afghanistan and also sending people on key leadership programmes elsewhere, "Unless we build leadership in countries, things are not going to improve," he adds.
Step three: Involve young people
Half of the world's population are aged 25 or under, which poses fresh challenges. Adair says the difficulty in the West is that we have an ageing population and are inclined to spend the majority of funds on this demographic – for instance, on health care. But Adair says we should be investing in the leaders of tomorrow, starting in primary schools.
"It's the bridge between the family and the world of work. It's the first time children leave home and venture into the world," Adair explains. "The fundamental values that go into making good leaders, such as enthusiasm, integrity, warmth, humanity and confidence, need to be laid down. It's about widening the concept of education beyond the terribly narrow focus on exams and tests."
This also means partnerships between governments, donor bodies, the UN, leading global youth action groups (such as The Scout Association), schools and universities. "It's a mammoth programme," Adair admits.
Step four: A global leadership fund of $20bn
"People have rushed forward to set up business schools with their name on, worth millions of pounds, but not one entrepreneur has given a penny to leadership development," says Adair, who also states that while major donors like The World Bank and DFID give away around £6bn in aid every year, they, too, are only just starting to think how some of this could be spent on leadership development.
In an effort to boost this, he envisages organisations such as the UN, NGOs, The World Bank and DFID putting $10billion into a leadership pot, matched by the business community. It might seem a staggering amount, but Adair believes $20bn is a drop in the ocean. "If I could have the money which organisations in the West are wasting on ineffective leadership development, I'd have around half of the $20bn already," he says.
"If you take into account the fact we have 6.7 billion people in the world and that the population will rise dramatically in the next 15-20 years, $20bn is not a large sum. The challenge is how we're going to spend it effectively."
Step five: Global organisations need to lead the strategy
Adair believes the UN is among one of the global bodies perfectly placed to appoint key people to take on responsibility for owning and delivering his global leadership development strategy by forming a steering group.
However, this also comes full circle to nations having their own vocations and callings, which not only need representation but can be shared. For example, Adair says the UK has adopted a kind of self-effacing leadership that could help push development forward.
"Uniquely among nations, we have a very strong tradition of thinking about leadership and leadership development – we developed parliamentary democracy, we invented the value which leadership has, and we have the advantage of the commonwealth nations, which make up over 50 of the 190 nations in the world," he explains. "Also, English is a universal language – 95% of the world's books are in English – so we have a great advantage of being able to share our traditions with others."
While Adair is quick to point out that this forms only part of the three leadership traditions on which the core body of knowledge he has identified is based, the UK has a "strong vantage point" for developing a global approach to leadership which isn't just Western. "We have assets which probably no other nation has, so I would like to give a wake-up call to our government to show leadership in this area and not to drag its heels."
You can read our previous interviews with John Adair here
Over a million managers worldwide have taken part in John Adair's Action-Centred Leadership programmes www.johnadair.co.uk, ideal for companies looking to introduce consistent leadership training, promote a culture of growing future leaders and re-energise their approach to leadership. The one-day course is available between 27 January and 23 June 2009 for £789 + VAT. In addition, trainers can participate in a two-day, intensive accreditation programme to gain the practical tools and techniques used to deliver effective Action Centred Leadership training www.johnadair.co.uk/trainersmanual. The course costs £1,650 + VAT and in the first half of 2009 will take place in February and April. Spaces are limited. For further information, please contact John Adair by email or visit www.johnadair.co.uk or www.adairleadershipdevelopment.com