Monday, July 26, 2010

Guest Post: Mark Walsh - Leadership and Communication Skills

[Cross-posted at Integral Options Cafe.]

Mark Walsh heads leadership training providers Integration Training: based in Brighton, London and Birmingham UK. Specializing in "embodied" ways of working, they help organizations get more done without going insane (stress and time management), coordinate action more effectively (team building and communication training), and help leaders build impact, influence and presence.

Leadership and Communication Skills

I run a leadership training company helping people around the world develop their personal impact, influence, and presence. We take an integral approach looking at embodied aspects of leadership, interpersonal communication skills, psychological development, and cultural factors. Much of what we do in the business training and non-profit sector world applies equally to men and women . . . but I suspect not all. I’ve been looking forward to writing this article unashamedly with only men in mind . . . though of course if you’re a woman feel free to snoop and get some insight.

Men are from Snickers

Making far-reaching generalisations about men’s and women’s communication in the style of trite magazines and populist psychology is dangerous and unfair...but that’s what I’m going to do, because I trust you not to hold it too tightly or start a PC warlock-hunt. The following is based on my limited personal experience, a less than thorough review of the scientific literature and frankly, a big set of nuts.

Heartfelt Leadership

If you don’t have direction you’re useless. Typologically and developmentally of course, some men are more inclined towards going with the flow and that’s fine - if it it really makes you happy, go back to the hot-tub. The vast majority of men I’ve gotten to know well, however, are far happier, sexier, and richer if they are leading their lives with passionate focused intent. This to me, rather than having followers or being on a grand crusade, is the essence of personal leadership. To take action on a sea of troubles based on what breaks your heart and demands you set sail. I would encourage men out there to lead from your passion and your pain . . . and if you’re not regularly, privately fearful and publicly first mocked then attacked, you’re not yet leading.

Leadership Training

After an education based on encouraging conformity, preparation for a mechanised soulless workplace, and de-individualisation, some from of leadership training is often beneficial (and if you avoided that and were raised by nice soft hippy parents instead, it is definitely necessary). My own leadership training was in the form of an extended period of residential martial arts study, apprenticing with a number of aikido teachers in the UK and abroad, followed by peace-work in conflicted countries using what I’d learned. I now see that I actively sought this difficult, painful, and poverty-stricken initiation in order to find a form of leadership training that wasn’t available from my schooling or family. Before I crossed this bridge, there was a lot of wasted time, alcohol, and womanising under it, and I was utterly miserable. Until a man has made some type of hero’s journey (and it may look VERY different from mine if you have the soul of an artist, farmer, or monk for example) he has no claim to leadership and is merely a dangerous boy.

The Embodied Leadership Challenge

Leadership isn’t a theoretical affair that you can learn from a book but rather a lived and continual sharpening of experience and in whatever you make your dojo. Peak events and weekend workshops won’t cut it...regular dedicated practice is essential to build the embodied leadership presence that is both necessary to lead and obvious to others.

I would recommend the courses of Integral College and Newfield Network in Europe and the Strozzi Institute in the states for those looking for open public programmes with an embodied component and genuine transformational element.

Communication Training

Let’s face it, most men are shit at communication (take that utterance for example) - the cliche is based in truth. By the standards of expressing ourselves, building relationships, and coordinating action (the I, we and it of communication) we are often tested and found wanting. I would therefore highly recommend some kind of communication training for all men. I have made a journey in this regard from “a 1 out of 10 to at least a 5,” as some old female friends joke, and this has been very valuable to me personally and professionally.

Unfortunately much of the communication training that exists seems like it is designed as a form of slow painful penis removal by people stuck in a touchy-feely relativist swamp. Challenge and accountability are two aspects of communication found in a number of forms of men’s work that I enjoy, and I think add to the equally important aspects of emotional self-awareness, empathy, and support that are encouraged in more feminine communication training. I, we, and it aspects of communication are all vital.

I would also like to say that communication, like leadership, is poetry not prose, and you won’t find yours here. No man is an island, or an undifferentiated ocean either. Leadership training turns up from flotsam to navigators . . . and communication means we will not sail alone. For me this is worth the trouble, and if you’re a man not in this kind of trouble yet . . . I challenge you to dive in.

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Mark Walsh heads leadership training providers Integration Training: based in Brighton, London and Birmingham UK. Specialising in "embodied" ways of working they help organisations get more done without going insane (stress and time management), coordinate action more effectively (team building and communication training) and help leaders build impact, influence and presence. His background includes work with blue-chip companies, non-profit sector work in war zones, an academic degree in psychology and an aikido black-belt. In his spare time he dances, meditates and enjoys being exploited by two cats and one baby niece. His life ambition is to make it normal to be a human being at work.

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