Centre philosophy

We asked Dr Sally Watson, Director of the Centre for Personal Development, to explain how the Centre came about, and what its philosophy is.

1. What brought you to the development of a new Centre?

Evidence from satisfied customers that the Lancaster approach to the development of executives was practical and sustainable. We gave them the attitude and skills that made them feel responsible for their personal development and able to authentically flex their style as the situation changes.

The critical successful factors have been firstly a clear ‘inside-out’ approach to executive development which first builds the confidence of the individual in their style and then shows them how to challenge their own assumptions and that of others. Secondly, we teach executives to be critical thinkers which, combined with a greater self knowledge, is a powerful personal portfolio.

2. How is the offering different to traditional executive education?

It has a totally different starting point! The premise is ‘your development and your leadership are 100% your responsibility and start with you’. The models out there help to structure your thinking, but are not the remedy for something you have got wrong. Self-awareness combined with the confidence to challenge conventional thinking brings an inner resilience that can transcend the pressures of executive life.

Our core philosophy is that our education and development need continuous review as the external world changes – political and social change, rapid technological development and scientific advancement. For instance, models of leadership taught in traditional executive education programmes are based on research and thinking that is grounded in the past. They provide a stimulus to stretch our minds but they cannot deliver all the answers to the problems of the future. We become deluded that a right answer exists to complex issues and panic when our current models no longer fit the changing situation.

3. How do we teach an executive to think about the future?

The traditional executive programmes provide an excellent range of inputs on a wide range of ideas and access to eminent teachers and researchers. This form of executive education rarely addresses the 'how to' question: how do I apply this to my organisation or my problem?

The 'how to' space has been taken up by training and consulting companies who deliver skills development and behavioural change. The two major flaws of both models is their external focus (something outside me will bring the improvement) and the belief that something that works today will work tomorrow.

The education versus training debate creates a disconnect between theory and practice and shores up the divide between academics and practising executives. It is a sterile debate and one which does not address the needs of executives or develop them to deal with the challenges of the future.

There is limited success when executives apply the material they have been taught on a traditional programme. They face tough cultural challenges when they return to work and if they do not engage in deeper personal development they are unlikely to effect sustainable change.

The key is to develop executives who are discerning about their style and their leadership. They understand how their leadership was learned and subsequently developed. They are able to calibrate their style with a range of models of leadership and make appropriate choices for their situation.

Theoretical models of leadership potentially oversimplify the complexities of organisational life and deliver the impression that leadership can be learned by applying models. If any form of development is perceived to be a remedy to a prevailing issue in the business then it will have an in-built obsolescence.

Our approach means that the individual signs up to the idea that learning about self and leadership is a lifelong quest for which they are 100 per cent responsible. Our part of the deal is to provide the environment, support, resources and challenge so that they can embrace that responsibility and make a sustainable difference to their lives. This means the executives make discerning choices about their development and leverage the capabilities of the Centre and the wider business school to suit their aspirations.