Executive DEVELOPMENT 22 | Developing Leaders Issue 26: 2017 T hat feeling. When they look you in the eye and ask you why you are letting them go. After all that they have done for you. They are crying. You feel sick. There is little you can say that doesn’t sound callous. These are the times when they could not pay you enough to do your job as a leader. It is not all about corner offices and first class travel. The dirty secret about leadership is about how painful it often is. So how can you really prepare for it, and how can Boards check that they are appointing a leader who can actually hack it? We are encouraged to play to our strengths, to be positive and have growth mindsets. But as a species we are hard-wired to learn best from adversity. It might just save our bacon someday, so we remember it. Deep in our reptilian brain lies a catalogue of emotional scars from the weathering of our careers as leaders. These have been carefully preserved for us, because they are the very templates we will need when experience comes knocking in the future. We used to call this wisdom, or character, or experience, and we were probably right to imagine that seasoned leaders had more of it than young upstarts. But this need not be the case. We now know, thanks to neuroscience, that templating can be used deliberately to build muscle-memory for leading in the future. At Ashridge Executive Education, we have been building our expertise in this for over a decade. We started by asking board-level leaders this question: What do you know now about yourself as a leader that you wish you had known 10 years ago? We figured there must be a way to turn all of this hindsight into 20:20 foresight. So we asked them how they had learned it. Here it is, this innocent little list: 1. Stepping up 2. Taking key decisions 3. Coping with increasing change 4. Managing ambiguity 5. Taking a risk 6. Accepting when you get it wrong 7. Key Board/stakeholder meeting 8. Doing the maths 9. Joining the dots 10. Motivating and influencing others 11. Flexing style 12. Delegating to and empowering staff 13. Dealing with poor performance 14. Listening to staff 15. Knowing when to seek help and advice 16. Giving and taking feedback 17. Work-life balance Leadersmithing An Apprenticeship Approach Inspires the Development of Leaders By Eve Poole