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Reintegrating Leadership and Management in Practice

By Tony Nicholls At Mayvin, we recognise that current approaches to leadership and management development aren’t working. There are pockets of good practice, for sure. In the main, however, the quality of leadership and management capability in many organisations is not where it needs to be for an increasingly complex, rapidly changing world, where the future is even less knowable than it might […]
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By Tony Nicholls

At Mayvin, we recognise that current approaches to leadership and management development aren’t working. There are pockets of good practice, for sure. In the main, however, the quality of leadership and management capability in many organisations is not where it needs to be for an increasingly complex, rapidly changing world, where the future is even less knowable than it might have been pre-pandemic.  

One of the challenges is the deification of leaders and leadership. This is where the development dollar has been focused over the past few decades and is where we look when we need direction and answers to sticky problems. This focus is denigrating the role of managers and the activities of management in the effective running of organisations.  

We have noticed some consequences to what seems to be a perfectly logical focus on the development of great leadership: 

  • Leadership and management are perceived to be two separate practices 
  • Leaders and managers are seen to be two distinct groups within the organisation, split on a hierarchical basis with “middle managers and senior leaders” 
  • A focus on leadership development has left management practice struggling to deliver in increasingly complex, rapidly changing contexts 
  • Developing one practice is isolation of the other misses an opportunity to nurture more rounded, authentic leader-manager practitioners 

Current approaches to developing leaders and managers are found wanting: 

  • Leadership and management practices are developed in isolation 
  • The development dollar is heavily weighted to leadership and therefore often restricted to senior levels in the organisation 
  • Leadership development is theory focused and abstracted from the real work of management 
  • Leadership development expects participants to intellectually digest a theory and then change behaviours based on a rational understanding of the concepts 
  • Management development positions models, frameworks and tools as “the answer” 
  • Management development is abstracted from the leadership presence needed to utilise models, frameworks and tools effectively  
  • Leadership and management development focuses on individual learners in isolation of their context and the relationships needed for organisation processes to work effectively 

In attempts to find ‘the answer’ to leadership and management development, we see a constant stream of silver bullet best practices being promoted by consultants and academics. Despite deploying these new models there is a sense that leadership and management capabilities never quite hit the mark. This leads many organisations to enter into iterative cycles of articulating and attempting to embed new values and behaviours frameworks. Sometimes this is aligned to a new strategy. In other cases, it is because leaders and managers aren't delivering as well as they might on the existing strategy. Either way, creating successive new frameworks is resource-heavy and can lead to cynicism and change fatigue.  

What if there was a way to develop capabilities across the organisation that allowed values and behaviours to emerge spontaneously aligned to the needs of the work in hand? As contexts change, leaders and managers could explore with each other, their teams, stakeholders and customers, how best to be with each other and to do the work together. An overarching purpose and high-level values would offer guidance and a benchmark for their explorations, but how they show up, in the moment, would be a day-to-day cooperative inquiry. This may sound like a recipe for anarchy. In practice, developing reflective capabilities in leaders and managers and encouraging them to reflect on and explore new ways of working together, tends to lead to the kinds of values and behaviours any self-respecting organisation would promote.  

Adding to this, what if we saw leadership and management as interwoven threads in the fabric of every leader or manager’s practice? This would allow us to develop both capabilities simultaneously. We suggest going further and dropping the distinction between leadership and management activities, assuming instead that there is simply ‘practice’. We suggest going beyond leadership and management towards organisation practice and the organisation practitioner. 

With this melding of leadership and management capabilities, we can focus our attention on how each individual shows up, how they enter into relationship with their colleagues and how effective they are in getting done what they need to do, which more often than not, involves collaboration with others. We can explore and develop what we refer to as their ‘instrumentality’. This involves both the way leaders and managers make sense of their context and the way they affect it with their presence. Paradoxically, we can also attend to developing management capabilities that have lagged behind those of leadership. We then enter a positive cycle of reinforcement as improved management capabilities enhances leadership presence and vice versa. In other words, overall organisation practice improves.  

An example might bring this to life. Working with an executive leadership team in a large private sector business, we were asked to help change the organisation’s culture. It was thought colleagues were stuck in old ways of thinking and this was preventing hoped-for benefits accruing from recently implemented systems and process changes. Leadership practice in this organisation was proving to be effective and yielding high levels of engagement amongst the teams. The strategy was clear and widely understood, and despite deep cuts to budgets and headcount, this engagement remained high

The challenge came in the day-to-day management processes when making decisions, initiating and progressing projects and in delegating work. In the detail of the day-to-day running of the business and transformation activities, this leadership team deployed old-style command and control management practices. It was when these were pointed out and changed, that the desired changes in practices lower down in the organisation started to materialise. The executive team let go of some of their power and accountability and let others pick it up.

They became more rounded leader-managers, or in new money, more effective organisation practitioners. As their overall practice developed, they deployed a more contemporary approach to dealing with complex issues and developed their teams in the process. Critical in this shift was the development of the relationships they had with their teams. The shift involved moving away from working ‘on’ their relationships, through instruction and influence, to being ‘in’ relationship with their colleagues where an openness to joint inquiry and collaboration was fostered.  

Over the past decade, Mayvin has become adept at supporting clients reintegrate the leadership and management elements of their roles and in so doing, deploy more contemporary, relationship-based, organisation practices. Our approach involves: 

  • Seeing leadership and management as one practice and developing them together 
  • Grounding the learning in the leader-manager’s real work, recognising the messiness of the everyday politics of organisation life and offering immediate positive impact 
  • Encouraging safe experimentation and developing not just reflective, but reflexive capabilities that, together, effect a fundamental, underpinning mindset shift that then enables real-time, as-needed changes to working practices.  
  • Exploring complexity as an everyday reality and developing practical approaches to working with it  
  • Recognising relationships are the raw material of the leader-manager and exploring the mindset and approaches needed to build trusting, collaborative teams and peer networks  
  • Seeing learning as inquiry-based rather than solution focused, developing critical problem-solving capabilities and authenticity of presence 
  • Allowing each learner to develop an individualised learning journey through a unique practice-based research question. This question focuses on their practice development needs, their relationship with others and the desired impact they wish to have in their role. 

Four fields of practice come together to offer a broad and comprehensive set of capabilities needed for effective impact in today’s complex change landscapes:  

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Developing these capabilities can be through varying forms of intervention, including deep dive theory bursts, work-based projects, action learning, mentoring and coaching.  

More formal programmes can also be accredited thereby offering post-graduate, level 7 qualifications. Mayvin’s recently launched Masters (MA) in People and Organisation Development has been built upon the Post Graduate Certificate programmes we have been running in public and private sector organisations for nearly 10 years. It is a perfect example of how the leader-manager, as organisation practitioner, can develop the capabilities to effectively lead and manage in today’s more complex, rapidly changing contexts.  

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