The reason that Leader Effectiveness Training works is that it addresses leadership skills at a deeper and more fundamental level than other leadership or management training workshops. With the skills learned in L.E.T., the organization is able to create a suitable platform on which the other components can be constructed. Just as some advanced drugs require a steady heartbeat and acceptable blood pressure or new software applications require a proper operating system, many management tools such as career development tools, mentoring systems, quality improvement systems and so forth require a certain level of communication skill that management teams often do not possess. This tendency is exaggerated in highly technical organizations where hiring and promotions are based mainly on technical qualifications. Few technical specialty curricula offer more than a smattering of non-technical coursework and few hiring companies look for, or are indeed qualified, to evaluate leadership skills. Often, organizations have highly competent, capable, decent men and women in leadership roles. But, that doesn’t guarantee that the organization can sustain high levels of quality and productivity. This is a difficult lesson to learn because many companies operate reasonably successfully without excellent leadership skills. In an environment in which there is little competition and you have an excellent product line, much error can be tolerated. But, as the organization grows and the competition increases, the margin for such error is greatly diminished. Effectiveness and clarity become extremely important.
At the most fundamental level, all organizations are systems of relationships. The organization will perform its function to the degree that those relationships work or don’t work. The necessary platform for all leadership and management training must be a system of healthy, adult working relationships. Such relationships are built through clear communication. Healthy adult working relationships are built by having the right conversations at the right times and following through on clear agreements. Leader Effectiveness Training facilitates this by providing simple, practical tools that help participants see clearly what conversations are needed, helping them learn the communication skills needed to conduct those conversations and finally, to solve problems when necessary.
A tool called the behavior window, created by Dr. Thomas Gordon, is a straightforward device that participants can use to determine “who owns the problem.” It is a means of assessing accountability for the communication process, especially in situations when emotions are running high. Many organizations have considerable confusion about problem ownership. Possessiveness, need to control, tendency to assign blame, making unwarranted assumptions and other unproductive actions lead to considerable error and lack of stability in organizations. I often encounter managers who try to “own” all of the problems. While often motivated out of a desire to perform well and “stay on top” of things, such a way of looking at his or her organization is unsustainable. A manager who tries to do this will ultimately fail. Conversely, some managers try to shift blame at every opportunity. Also, not a winning strategy! If the participants are motivated to do the right thing, they will learn that taking a moment or two to determine who owns the problem will prevent a lot of unproductive conversations and arguments, reduce the number of times they try to solve the wrong problem and increase the sense of ownership among team members. The behavior window allows the leader to assess, in a few seconds, if she needs to begin the conversation by listening and encouraging the other to seek solutions to a problem or if she needs to send a clear message about her own need, or if the parties need to engage in mutual problem solving. In any case, the conversation will have started on the right foot. The parties will be having the right conversation.
If the other person owns the problem, L.E.T. teaches effective listening skills. The model teaches participants to avoid making premature judgments or assumptions about the other person (These are called roadblocks.), and how to listen so that both parties are satisfied that the problem is understood thoroughly. Participants are often very surprised at how little they actually listen and at how much work it takes to really listen well enough that they understand another person’s needs. The ability to do this accomplishes a number of things. The person with the problem finds his or her own solution to the problem. The leader does not have to solve the problem for them. The leader avoids creating an unnecessary dependency. The human emotions no longer are interfering with getting the job done.
Participants also learn that if their own needs, as leaders, are not being met (the leader owns the problem) that issuing commands, making judgments, interrogating, or using sarcasm often hinder their ability to meet those needs. Learning how to confront behavior that interferes with their ability to get those needs met in a clear, constructive way is highly efficient. L.E.T. teaches participants how to do that in the way that is most likely to elicit a constructive change in behavior, avoid damaging the other person, and maintain the relationship.
If even after achieving some clarity, the problem remains, L.E.T. teaches a very straightforward mutual problem solving process that maximizes the chances of finding mutually acceptable solutions.
The behavior window also reveals to the leader when these skills are most important. If the leader masters the skills and commits to using them consistently, the “problem areas” will diminish. That is, the other team members will have more confidence in their own ability to solve problems without the leader’s involvement. The leader will have fewer problems of his or her own. And, there will be less unresolved conflict. Or, as it is illustrated in the behavior window, the productive work zone will become larger. The productive work zone, or “no problem” area, is where other management tools are most effective. Situational leadership, goal setting, mentoring and many other techniques become much more useful. These tools depend on people’s analytical abilities. They must be thinking clearly to use those tools effectively. In the problem areas, human emotions are often an obstacle to clear communication and effective problem analysis and resolution. In L.E.T. we learn how to get out of the problem zones and into the productive work zone where those analytical skills are more likely to work.
In short, L.E.T. contributes to organizational productivity by helping leaders:
• Identify problems earlier.
• Define problems more clearly.
• Avoid solving the wrong problems.
• Spend less time “solving” the same problems over and over.
• Build team members’ confidence in solving their own problems.
• Face less resistance from team members when confronting his or her own problems.
• Build healthier working relationships among team members, peers, customers and others.
• Prevent human emotions from interfering with the ability to get the job done.
• Make it possible to more effectively use other management and leadership tools.
One of the values of L.E.T. over other leadership workshops that mention some of the same skills, is that it recognizes that effective leadership requires a system of behaviors and a simple way of deciding when to use which skill (behavior). L.E.T. is also extremely well grounded in research and well-tested theory. There is nothing experimental or speculative. We know that these skills work and we know their limitations. In more than 30 years of organizational development, training, and executive coaching I have yet to find any single approach that matches L.E.T.