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The invisible elephant: radical, ethical, authentic leadership

Now, surely more than ever, leaders of organisations cannot know everything and just tell people what to do. In the modern world, we know less than 5% of the information we need to run the show – a massive drop from 75% just a generation ago, according to Robert Kelley, in his 2008 book, Longitudinal study with knowledge workers (Carnegie-Mellon).

The Kelley study's figures are: 75% in 1985, 10% in 2005, down to 5% in 2008. My estimate, given the projections of increased information being available, is that it will be down to 1% by 2020.

Neuroscience tells us our brain defaults to a simple, stone-age model - particularly when stressed - that makes us think about how we are going to change strategies, structures, processes, opinion and other people… but not ourselves.

And we know, from listening to our workforce, that the next generation wants autonomy within a clear framework, to puzzle things out, develop personal insights and create the solutions many previous leaders have so clearly failed to offer. We also know that radical, ethical, authentic leadership, beyond the ego - a way of thinking we call 'transpersonal' - is the one most likely to get results. As Einstein famously said: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

Walking through the steps of a leadership development model has been a 14-year-long journey of research and experience with CEOs, boards and teams at the highest level. As a result of working with these key people (via one-to-ones, group coaching, facilitating workshops, and action learning through 'issue sessions'), it soon became clear few of the challenges were about products or processes, or even finance; the most important issues were about people, strategic direction or their exit from the business. And when we measured, it turned out that about 70% of their issues were about people. Yet none of them had had any training in this area - surprise, surprise.

This was the 'Invisible Elephant' - no leadership blueprint exists; best practice is a concept that can't easily be applied; learning is all by instinct and luck. Yet there is a complete lack of discussion or awareness of this glaring void at the top - and little being done to fill it.

Using a 360º tool called Leipa (leadership emotional intelligence profile assessment) we assessed the baseline of embedded skills and behaviours. This produces its findings through conducting a gap analysis with perceived need in that particular role, thereby contextualising the entire process to the individual person, organisation and role.

Over time, we learned 'REAL' leadership has three identifiably different stages:

Rational - we justify our actions, which are usually pre-decided on the basis of logical analysis (overtly)

Ego-based - we are motivated by some sort of prestige, financial or other reward that we want from the process

As usual - this is the way it has always been done. Why change?

A great deal of leadership development work can, if well delivered, bring key people up to the next level. They become robust in their approach (that is, they break away from the usual way of operating) and they add an understanding of the importance of emotional awareness.

But the real wealth of insight - which we call the 'Pyramid Treasure' - is contained in eight integral competencies of leadership.

We have identified a series of development steps that leaders can take towards transpersonal leadership There are 320 granular behaviours built into this model. But the real innovation here is to divide this into personal conscience and self-determination, basically measuring who we are and what we are going to do about it.

1. Neuroscience: this brings recent neuroscientific knowledge into the areas of leadership development

2. Intuition, instinct and insights: an important part of transpersonal leadership is understanding and developing how you make decisions. As mentioned earlier, we humans believe we use a rational analysis process to reach decisions. This is how we have been educated all our lives. But we actually reach decisions in a totally different way - and then spend our time rationalising our 'three-I' approach:

Intuition: a non-conscious process that is judgemental, rapid and involuntary. It is based on experience, but also liable to being affected by emotions, bias and prejudice

Instinct is something learned by our ancient forefathers and thus inherited. It is equally liable to be biased and generate an incorrect reaction to being confronted with new information that provides a different perspective or perception

Insights are an unconscious involuntary act from external stimulation

Understanding these three 'I's of decision-making is critical for truly rounded leaders.

3. Ethical philosophy: making sense of the three key ethical drivers that steer our own decision-making

4. Personal conscience: who I am - uncovered

5. Self-determination: this is about movement and direction. How do I release myself to get to where I want to be?

6. Transpersonal leadership characteristics: while these characteristics are affected by their context, they are altogether more holistic in nature

7. Choice: maybe unique to the human species, we have the ultimate power to choose between right and wrong

8. Through to - for the greater good - beyond the ego: once the fundamental choice is made, it is a question of making decisions that benefit all stakeholders. Keep developing transpersonal behaviours, attitudes and mindsets' and continually improve leadership skills - behaviours, attitudes and mindsets - this is a life's work.

Developing into a radical, ethically authentic leader requires focused development over a considerable period of time. It will be hard work, but most leaders have already shown they are determined, hard working and committed in what they do, so if they decide they want to change, they can do it. By embedding new behaviours, you can change 'push' to 'pull' - in other words, the focus is on people's insights leading them to desired actions.

I will leave you with a final thought that epitomises the ethos of our new leadership development model: as Professor Dumbledore says in JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: "It is our choices, Harry, that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

John Knights is co-founder and chairman of LeaderShape, an expert in emotional intelligence and a leader in transpersonal leadership. A free pdf of Invisible Elephant and the Pyramid Treasure is available at www.leadershape.biz/ielaunch.