"Before worrying about everything that changes, it’s good to take a look at what should remain the same in yourself"

Do Better Team

Carlos Royo (Zaragoza, 1974) has a PhD in organizational and social psychology (Universidad de Barcelona), a Master in Human Resources (Universidad Politècnica de Catalunya) and a diploma in executive coaching (University of Columbia, New York). Monday 16th May, at 19:00h, he will be presenting at EsadeForum Fundamentos del desarrollo directivo, a book from his experience as a professor in the department of personnel and organization management at Esade, where for 20 years has developed the LEAD project, promoting effective executive development.

What is Fundamentos del desarrollo directivo (Basics of executive development) and why did you write it?

This book outlines the core of an innovative program that is taught at Esade Business School and has transformed the lives of hundreds of people, explained in an entertaining but rigorous manner with examples and tools for effective executive development.

More than 16,000 executives have taken this program. My book is based on rigorous analysis but also includes the experiences of people now holding senior posts in public and private organizations in Spain and other countries.

I wrote it because I thought it was important to compile my twenty years of experience and the lessons I’ve learnt and share them with people going through personal or career changes.

Why are the executives who study at business schools interested in leadership development? What is their dream?

Well, there’s been a paradigm shift in recent years. A few decades ago, executives (mostly men, by the way) used to go to business school to become general managers and then get more powerful jobs with higher wages. This is a respectable reason but nowadays many of them (more than 30% of whom are women) go to business school to change their career although this obviously affects their private lives too. Most of the people that these programs (and also the book) are intended for are at a crossroad in their life (they are getting married or separated, or their career is in a doldrums, or they want to give their life a new boost). Going to business school revamps their desire to learn and create a personal vision that connects their talents to professional opportunities.

In addition, we believe in the social impact of these programs. Can you imagine how many lives could benefit directly or indirectly from the development of leaders who know themselves well and have a clear personal vision that they share with their companies? Our efforts focus on making these people more humanistic leaders in keeping with the demands of today’s landscape. Competent and compassionate in keeping with ESADE’s values.

Against this backdrop, what prompts people to makes personal changes?

People are driven by external, internal and transcendental motivations. External motivations depend on social conditioning, usually what other people expect of you, but also the external goals you set yourselves, such as landing a better job. Internal motivations try to find out what makes your life worthwhile, for example, doing your utmost at work. These motivations are related to personal needs and values. Finally, transcendental motivations are about looking for a purpose. Everyone has different aims, for example, sharing knowledge with new generations or linking technology and people can be rather transcendental or happen in different ways during one’s life.

Most people base their search for personal change on the three types of motivation. Internal and external motivations are more ephemeral whilst transcendental motivations are more transformative, but they can all bring about change.

So, to achieve our goals, is there a method for addressing career changes?

Yes of course. The LEAD program was implemented more than 20 years ago in parallel with a thorough line of research. This method is based on the Model of Intentional Change which involves five key factors for dealing with personal change.

The first involves working on identity and purpose, i.e., understanding better who you are and what you want: the search for an ideal self, not in the sense of an idyllic self but of having compatible values, motivations and interests and a personal vision.

The second involves knowing your strengths and weaknesses better in order to plot an ambitious and realistic map of talent. Which of your capabilities should you develop or delegate depending on your vision? The third involves drawing up an agenda for change. An action plan for the most challenging challenges and aims, leading to activities that you want to start doing, stop doing or continue doing.

The fourth involves practicing new skills, and also new personal or professional challenges, first in safe environments and then in more unknown settings.

The fifth involves surrounding yourself with a support network to implement those changes. Your family, friends, some workmates, or sometimes your bosses, or coach, or mentor or anyone you think could provide support during your change.

A management development program like LEAD might also show its participants that they are on the wrong path. What should you do if the self-knowledge results are surprising?

One of the key elements in leadership development is the ability to treat program participants like adults able to take their own decisions. When done consciously, this reveals highly significant and sometimes surprising changes. In some instances, for example, people who have been working in a corporation for 20 years realize that their career path is entrepreneurship, whilst others, destined to take over their family business, decide to enter a multinational. Likewise, some changes focus on reinstating the importance of time in order to balance personal and professional commitments.

One question discussed in class and explained in my book is when participants ask, “what happens when I write down my vision and it doesn’t happen?” In this instance, there is confusion between vision and challenge. A vision is a future setting where I want to abide by my values, motivations and dreams. For example, what do I want my relationship with work or with my family to be like over the next 6-7 years? What kind of leader do I want to be, depending on my values? What kind of corporate culture do I identify with? What relationship do I want to have with my health and leisure time? These sorts of questions will make you think about yourself before projecting them onto a future scenario, and they depend to a considerable extent on yourself. However, if your personal vision is guided by your personal challenge, then you are focusing on a specific goal (one shot) that does not necessarily depend on you and will cause frustration if not achieved. I do not mean that challenges and goals should not exist, but that they should occur not in a phase when you are developing a new direction for your life but when you have already established the strategy for your personal vision.

In a world where everything happens so quickly, where the focus is on impactful results and there is no time for introspection, how can one implement an introspection plan?

One thing that is clear when contemplating any personal or professional change is the need to slow down. Richard Boyatzis explains this well when he talks about positive and negative emotional attractors.

When dealing with urgent, stressful, fast-paced change, part of our brain in the sympathetic nervous system is activated: the so-called negative emotional attractors that trigger adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are designed to make individuals spring into action, protect themselves from threats and act quickly. However, when you are thinking about your life and searching for deeper, more lasting changes, what needs to be activated is the parasympathetic nervous system which, among other things, generates hope, inspiration and a long-term outlook thanks to, among other things, serotonin and oxytocin. So my book gives advice about how to develop this part of our brain that needs a calmer outlook to activate our hopes, dreams and motivations.

Are participants different before and after taking an executive development program?

At the end of a management development program, most participants tell us how they have changed. Many changes are about a better knowledge of themselves, their values, what matters in life, and the ups and downs of being a leader. Many participants also mention being able to think about and inform their life strategy for the years to come thanks to useful tools. All this has a real impact: job changes, career promotions, business creation, enhanced personal relationships, allocating time better depending on their needs, or sorts of leadership more in line with their values.

What ratings do you usually receive from participants in executive development programs?

In general, when you work with and for people, ratings tend to be high. Bear in mind too that the program features coaching, so participants have the opportunity to share their discoveries with a professional coach. In addition to very positive program ratings, I must also mention the comments participants make and the conversations I have with them subsequently. My book does in fact have a testimonial section where some participants explain what changes they experienced after an executive program like this. There are examples of people whom it helped reconsider what matters in their lives, others advancing towards important career changes, and many who discovered things about themselves and their relationships with others.

Judging by your experience as a talent management executive, what should inexperienced executives focus on? Where do you think they fail and how can this be remedied?

These are turbulent times. Before worrying about everything that changes (our surroundings), it’s good to take a look at what should remain the same in yourself. Reviewing the values that determine your managerial essence helps you know your red lines, your ethics and the coherence between what you say and do as a leader. From then on, these are times of extraordinary change that call for highly adaptable managers.

As regards the skills that a leader needs, in the book I explain the importance of reviewing career changes. The first change is starting a new job: identifying the company’s real demands, focusing on the boss and reading between the lines, creating links with members of the organization, and analyzing the culture of your new company by yourself. The second change is the shift from technical positions to middle management positions, which requires a good balance between assigning people and tasks, reflecting on the feedback you give and receive, making your team a priority, and nurturing influence and relationships outside your department.

Finally, the third change is about being appointed to general management. This requires a greater ability to work in ambiguous environments, to weigh up functions outside your comfort zone, to not focus on short-term results alone, to query the existing business model as a means of growth, and to appreciate what is unknown to you by being inquisitive and discovering how it works and changes the world.

Another interesting avenue is the world of entrepreneurship, which requires other skills.

In an ever-changing world, do you think that companies are aware of the leadership needs of their management teams?

Yes, they are, as demonstrated by three facts that worry companies a lot.

According to Gallup, more than 80% of corporate employees around the globe are disengaged. How can you think about motivation if your only commitment is your end-of-month payroll? How can the commitment be changed?

During the “great resignation” that occurred in the USA after the covid lockdown – a period when many people thought about what they wanted and the companies where they worked – almost four million workers voluntarily resigned, i.e., 2.7% of the entire USA workforce.

Today’s companies have a mixture of different generations and, therefore, values. According to the Working Population Survey, 19% of workers are baby boomers (born 1946 – 1964), 45% are generation X (1965 – 1980), 31% are millennials (1981 –1997) and 5% are generation Z (1998 onwards). So how can you know what motivates each generation and provide custom solutions?

All this calls for different sorts of leaders. Otherwise, companies will quite simply end up being unprofitable. Leaders must know themselves in order to know the needs of the people they work with. It’s not a matter of motivating them but paving the way for them to motivate themselves.

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