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FE Education
Top talent schooled in introspection
Alison Maitland

          Jon Moynihan, executive chairman of PA Consulting, admits to being an extreme introvert, even though his position requires him to be thoroughly outgoing. "My favourite thing is curling up in front of a fire with a book," he says. "I've taught myself to be extrovert."
His bookish nature also means he scores highly at perception but "can never make up my mind about anything". By contrast, Bruce Tindale, chief executive, is an extrovert and naturally decisive, creating a complementary team at the top of the consulting firm, he says.
Against type, Mr Moynihan is prepared to reveal these personal facts in order to explain how a programme of self-analysis is helping PA's partners to become better all-round leaders of people and strengthening the firm's succession planning.
It is an old joke that consultants are great at telling clients how to manage and hopeless at doing it themselves. Mr Moynihan and Mr Tindale wanted to knock that industry reputation on the head, so about three years ago they started searching for a suitable leadership programme.
They read books and investigated business school programmes as well as popular courses featuring sports celebrities but decided nothing quite matched their needs. So they devised their own leadership model, building a course around it that also draws on external material such as Myers Briggs and PAPI tests of personality and working style.
Along the way, they discovered that management consultants are extreme "thinkers" on a spectrum that runs from thinking to feeling. Extreme "feelers" include monks and nuns but also receptionists and typists. "Feelers think that thinkers are cold-blooded," says Mr Moynihan. "If you bark orders at a complete feeler, they will feel the lack of emotion. Thinkers have to be thoughtful about how they come across." He adds that feelers generally make better managers because they involve others and win their commitment.
The PA programme, which more than 100 of the 180 partners have now attended in groups of about 12, starts with 360-degree assessment, giving each partner a grading of their strengths and weaknesses by colleagues, subordinates and bosses.
They receive a substantial reading list designed to help them understand and analyse different leadership styles and their application in transforming companies such as IBM and Ebay. They are expected to put forward challenging views of what works when they meet for an intensive three-day seminar, the centrepiece of the programme.
During the seminar, participants examine their performance in the six aspects of leadership - or "capabilities" - that make up PA's leadership model. These are: diagnosing; making and sticking to good decisions; delivering solutions and rewarding performance; communicating with and developing others; exercising power willingly and credibly; and inspiring others and building networks.
Participants draw up an action plan to build on strengths and compensate for weaknesses. They are held accountable in follow-up coaching sessions with a senior partner.
Veera Johnson, a senior IT consultant who is responsible for "Zanzibar", an ambitious electronic procurement project for the UK public sector, has found the leadership programme to be a revelation. "My challenge is that I tend to want not to exercise power. I tend to be more interactive, to work with teams and push from behind," she says. "The course taught me there are certain instances where I do have to drive things from the front and be seen to be making decisions, rather than waiting for the team to catch up."
Boosted by this discovery, and by finding that colleagues already saw her as a leader, she says she has been "putting myself on the line" about what the Zanzibar project can achieve. She has done more public speaking, something she previously shied away from, and has decided to work further on her leadership abilities with an external coach.
Not all partners have embraced self-knowledge so willingly. Since the course is for the company's most senior people, they tend to be among the most cynical, explains Mr Tindale. "Some put up an impervious barrier, signalling that they don't want anyone getting too close to them."
But the majority have benefited, from those who were poor leaders and have had "a spectacular turnround", to the sceptics who have been won over and those who were already good leaders and have got better, says Mr Moynihan.
"They will be better managers, so they will hopefully help us keep people further down the organisation."
(FT Syndication Service)


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