In a nutshell...

This client wanted to develop a set of 8 key competencies throughout the organisation. Their initial thinking was that senior managers would coach their staff in the competencies, who in turn would coach their staff and so on. We reccomended that instead of getting managers to coach their staff in the competencies, the focus should be on getting managers to exemplify the competencies in their own behaviour and lead by example. The client agreed. Over a nine month period, we brought managers through a leadership development programme which sought to deepen their understanding of each competency as well as allow managers the time and space to apply the learning in practice. An independent consulting firm evaluated the effects of the programme and found that managers were using their new skills every day both personally and professionally and that the programme had found it’s way into the company culture with a new management ‘language’ starting to emerge. The year of our intervention was an outstanding success for the client, success which, as we were informed, the leadership programme had played a significant part in.

Authentic Leadership Development

Assisting the senior management team of a global FMCG to exemplify and champion a new set of leadership competencies throughout the organisation.


The Irish operations of a global FMCG organisation.


This client had spent a considerable amount of time and resources identifying and formulating a set of 8 key competencies that were necessary for management to bring to each business opportunity. The thinking was that both the board and the senior management team would champion these competencies and ensure that they were developed across all levels of management throughout the organisation. Initially, we were asked to provide coaching skills training to senior managers in the hope that they would then be in a position to coach and mentor their staff teams in relation to each of the 8 competencies. The project appeared to be straightforward, however subsequent meetings discussing the finer detail proved otherwise.


The senior management team was faced with an important question: What exactly qualified them to pass on the eight leadership competencies to other levels of management? Given that the request from HR was to upskill the senior managers’ coaching skills, it seemed clear that all were working under the assumption that not only did senior managers already have a full understanding of the competencies, but that the competencies were already exemplified in their behaviour. Gentle examination highlighted that not only was there a gap in their coaching skills, but also in their capacity, understanding and knowledge of the eight competencies. It’s a self-evident truth that we cannot teach or develop skills in others that we ourselves do not have first-hand knowledge of. Once the reality of this was appreciated, the brief changed: the coaching skills training that was initially requested became just one component of a much more comprehensive leadership development programme designed to build the managers’ capacity in relation to each of the eight competencies and make them fit for purpose.


As mentioned above, managers were operating under the assumption “we already know everything about these competencies”. So the first obstacle was bringing each individual to realise that, while they may have understood the competencies intellectually, understanding them through their own direct experience would give way to a very different kind of “knowing”. It would be this knowledge, which is the knowledge derived from experience, that would deliver the insight and authority they needed in order to exemplify the competencies in their own behaviour, coach their staff and champion their development throughout the organisation.

Information Vs. Engagement

One of the key issues during this project was helping the client to appreciate that developing the leadership competencies in staff was not about management telling staff anything. When it comes to vision, values, and ethics as well as their related competencies, there is a widely held assumption that rolling out a communications campaign about such aspects will lead to them becoming manifest in people’s behaviour. But information alone does not change behaviour and the evidence of this is all around us. We see many organisations today that have invested heavily in creating an ethics code, a set of values and a vision or mission statement. But all too often these various codes and values fail to move from documentation to the hearts, minds and actions of managers and staff.

If we look to our own experience, we find that we each already have knowledge of universal principles and values such as integrity, honesty and so on. During our busy lives and work, we either remain connected with that knowledge or we become disconnected from it. Exemplary behaviour is only possible when people re-connect with the values within themselves for without connection there can be no enactment. So the question then is not how do we input these values into our people: the question is how do we ensure people are continuously connected with them? It is only by authentic engagement and open enquiry that people can be brought to make this connection.


What does this look like in practice? It means that, as managers, we need to engage our people on an ongoing basis with the values and competencies that our organisation is seeking to promote. We need to challenge people’s understanding by engaging them with questions such as “What is integrity?”, “How can we bring integrity into every aspect of our work?”, “What would it look like if we all exemplified this value on a daily basis?” “What might be different in how we deal with customers?” “What could we start doing differently now, today?” The only caveat is that these discussions are only possible when managers are already practising and working with the values and skills themselves. Otherwise such discussions end up as a nice chat but totally ineffective as regards changing subsequent behaviour. Without personal experience and practice, there cannot be any authenticity and the result will be surface talk and conceptual understanding at best with staff feeling like “this is just the latest fad from HR”. In summary, we can’t preach what we don’t practice.

What we did

We began working from the top down, starting with the board and senior managers from across all departments (36 in total).

Programme Design & Objectives

We consulted with both senior managers and the learning and development team in order to scope out the programme. It was agreed that the objective was twofold:

  1. Assist managers in discovering and understanding the underlying principles of each of the eight competencies.

  2. Upskill managers in coaching and mentoring skills so that they could effectively pass on the learning to their staff teams.

The aim was to facilitate the roll out of the programme whilst minimising disruption and maximising benefit. Based on the eight competencies, we designed nine modules as follows:

  1. Introduction to Competency Development
  2. Vision
  3. Leadership
  4. Resilience
  5. Communication & Influencing
  6. Teamwork & Relationships
  7. Planning and Organisation
  8. Problem Solving & Decision Making
  9. Coaching & Mentoring

Each module consisted of one full-day session followed by a half-day follow up session two weeks later. This meant meeting with each sub group twice a month for a period of nine months.

Programme Roll Out

Prior to the first group sessions, we brought all of the managers together to give everyone an opportunity to discuss and question any aspect of the programme content and approach. All issues were addressed and the programme unfolded with the full support of all.

The 36 participants were organised into cross functional groups of 8/10 based on developmental needs and logistical constraints. The calendar for each group was simultaneously agreed. The venue was chosen and the company committed each participant fully to the programme so that organisational effect was maximised. Because of the managers’ hectic schedules, the group modules were staggered to create an inbuilt catch-up facility.

The emphasis throughout the programme was on managers applying the module content to their daily work situations between each session. Each module connected the managers with the underlying principle governing each competency. The intervening period between programme sessions gave managers the opportunity to apply these principles in practice on a daily basis. At the beginning of each session, we reviewed how each manager had fared with their practice. This programme format, i.e. non-consecutive meetings, real life application of the learning, review and report back sessions, was essential to shifting managers’ attitudes, increasing understanding and changing behaviour.


The client commissioned an external consultancy firm to conduct an independent and in depth evaluation of this development project.

Below are extracts from the independent evaluation report:

  • Overall, 97% of the managers who have attended the programme rated its content as either "very good" or "excellent".
  • Since the programme began 93.5% have noticed a difference in their own behaviour.
  • Managers are using their new skills every day either personally or professionally.
  • There is evidence that the programme has led to an increased level of trust and friendship among the senior management group.
  • There is evidence suggesting that a "management language” is beginning to emerge, indicating that the programme is becoming integral to the company culture. This is very interesting and offers potential for further nurturing of this culture shift.
  • Participants reported an increased level of trust, friendship and empathy within their groups and across the company.
  • Participants have reported that there are often references to the programme’s material at meetings – for example someone might say, “Drop it, have you been on the management development course? Is this how we should be dealing with this problem?” This experience is common to most people who have attended the programme.
  • It is evident that change at the individual level is beginning to impact the team, group and organisation dynamics.
  • The beneficial ratings of the programme content were reinforced by the consistently positive terms used to describe the programme by those interviewed. Such statements as “This course is worth its weight in gold”, “brilliant”, “the best programme ever attended in my working life” were very common.
  • The training approach was considered refreshing and to be a new and different approach.
  • Participants repeatedly stated that the programme helped them to develop the competencies both personally and professionally.

In addition, the programme rolled out within the timeframe and budget. All of the feedback confirmed the value to the participants and the real world benefits in achieving the challenging targets for the financial year in which the programme was presented. The client proceeded to conduct a similar programme with the next layer of management personnel. The year of our intervention was an outstanding success for the organisation and the managing director wrote to us expressing his gratitude for the part played by McGeough Training Ltd.:

“I have been very encouraged with the feedback from the management development programme. In particular, it was great to see so many of the team complimenting you for the way you managed and led the programme and for its relevance and content. I believe the report captures in detail the advantages which it has brought to us as a company for which we are very grateful.... It is indeed a milestone for the company and I look forward to our continued success. ” – Client Managing Director

We have now been working with this organisation for over a decade providing various development interventions including leadership development, dispute resolution and coaching for senior executives.

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