Sylvie Deffayet, PhD. Clinical psychologist, coach and doctor of management, discusses the major challenges of leadership, between transformation, authenticity and impact.
In a world of constant change, leadership is being challenged. For managers and directors, what was obvious yesterday is in question today: how to take one’s team into the future when everything is uncertain? How to embody a strong, unified vision? What is the best stance to adopt? These matters are at the heart of the expertise in the EDHEC Chair in Leadership Development, led by Sylvie Deffayet, PhD. Clinical psychologist, coach and with a PhD in management, she is involved, in particular, in a customised course "Accompagner vos leaders en contexte de crise" (“Supporting your leaders during times of crisis”), where she takes on the major issues of leadership between change, authenticity and impact.
WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF LEADERSHIP?
Leadership can be defined in many ways. It is an ensemble of "leadership skills", which I define more precisely as "inner resources for leading";. But the term also means a relationship of influence, oriented towards performance and success in common goals. That being so, it is interesting to distinguish between transactional leadership and transformational leadership. Transactional leadership refers to operational management: guiding daily activities, defining objectives and roles, conducting regular assessments, et cetera. A transactional leader relies on concrete methods and tools such as evaluation interviews, scoping interviews and management tools. Transformational leadership is more complex. A transformational leader leads collaborators to broaden their horizons, to give meaning to their actions and to see beyond their own self-interest to those of others and the community. Transformational leaders see further, even through the fog! They inspire and reassure, acting with a sense of optimism.
In general, with the directors and managers that I work with in training programmes,
we begin by evaluating whether, through habit or appetite, they are transactional or
transformational leaders. They need to be both, but transformational leadership is
more complicated to develop because it is quite another posture, more meaningful.
HOW CAN MANAGERS OR DIRECTORS DEVELOP
THEIR TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP STYLE?
Becoming a transformational leader is all about learning to learn! In itself, the work is never finished. I often compare the process to a gym, where one must go every day for muscle training, without ever resting on one’s laurels. To understand, one must learn to question oneself every day: am I up to the task? Am I equipped for my mission? What is missing and how can I remedy it? But also, more profoundly: what are my values and how do I incarnate them? The verb incarnate is not chosen lightly, because what we have to work on is a stance – our own way of maintaining oneself in the exercise of our role. A management stance is as much cognitive
and emotional as it is physical.
WORKING ON ONE’S LEADERSHIP MEANS
UNDERGOING AN EMINENTLY PERSONAL
Indeed, this reflective process is quite intimate. Leadership starts with self-leadership, that is, with the capacity to establish self-direction. My role within the EDHEC Executive Education training programmes is not to tell professionals what they should do in one context or another. It is rather to support them so that they can work in depth on the foundations of their leadership.
In addition, one of the key words of leadership today is authenticity, and the “authentic leader” figure is widely investigated in the academic world. In my view, this authenticity rests on four pillars: the capacity of a leader to know their strengths and weaknesses, their capacity to demonstrate discernment and objectivity, their transparency in relationships with others, and their capacity to react in accordance with their values and their strengths. Achieving this authenticity require complete personal commitment.
HOW DOES THE CURRENT CIRIS CHALLENGE
The crisis has had the effect of a massive stroke of the pen on our engrained beliefs. In psychology, we speak of “mourning the loss of omnipotence”: leaders have realised that they can’t do everything. Paradoxically, this realisation is a great opportunity – it is a chance to revisit one’s inner resources to direct and re-focus, to be powerful where we really need to be. Even outside a period of crisis, managers tend to work beyond the boundaries of their responsibilities and to exhaust themselves. Spreading oneself so far, one becomes a tyrant, for oneself as well as
for others. Refocusing on one’s responsibility is a first step.
HOW CAN LEADERSHIP LEARN?
On the pedagogical level, leadership cannot learn in a classic course whose content is already decided. A top-down approach makes no sense here. Instead, we propose a reflexive learning approach, done in community.
CONCRETELY, HOW DO YOU PROCEED,
PARTICULARLY IN A COURSE LIKE "SUPPORTING
YOUR LEADERS IN A CONTEXT OF CRISIS"?
Our approach consists in discovering the issues for each participant in order to launch a transformation that will be rooted in their own reality. So, we invite these directors from the same firm to enter a protected and safe environment, to “replay” of their managerial activity, to reconnect with their management skills, and to understand how to make them work in the service of a truly transformational leadership. This process is especially rich because it is collaborative: it is nourished on exchanges between peers.
During these training sessions, I use a method that I call the Art of Questioning. Each person uses it to clarify the questions that are important to them, in order to identify the subjects on which they want to focus in their development. Then, we work on the emotional intelligence level, especially on what I called a real "belief cleansing".
HOW DOES THIS "BELIEF CLEANSING" WORK?
Belief is a key notion in leadership. What I believe about myself, and what I present to others, whether positive or negative, necessarily influences my stance and my actions. Self-esteem, for example, is a matter of belief. How can you have an impact on your teams if you are convinced that they have a bad image of you or think that you are not up to your task? Learning means to accept changing what one thinks about oneself and the world. What I propose to managers and directors during our training is to look at these beliefs benevolently, to take some distance from them and to benefit from the experience and points of view of one’s peers.
IS THE IMPACT OF THIS TYPE OF COURSE
This is an important question because while it is relatively simple to know if the participants found the training satisfactory, it is more difficult to know whether they learned anything. So, in the EDHEC Chair in Leadership Development, we developed a programme to measure the efficacity of our courses that allows us to assess the ways in which a participant concretely developed their leadership. We use a system of self-assessing questionnaires, distributed to participants at the beginning and the end of the training programme, but also six months after they started. When we analyse their responses, we observe their changes in certain key elements of transformational leadership, which shift little in normal times: assertiveness, a capacity to ask for help, risk perception, and the like. Generally, we note a two-step change following our courses: a rapid rise during the training, followed by a time of implementation and sustainability.