Kimberly Luffman, Director of Brave Insights, has been disrupting, mobilising and building leadership capacity in the FMCG, professional services, retail, hospitality, construction, health and science and not-for-profit space for over 20 years. Having worked with and coached leaders in organisations like Rest, Interflow, Oz Minerals, Lion and Coca-Cola, she is no stranger to the commercial impact and pressures that leaders face on a daily basis.
As workers adapt to increasingly demanding, fast-paced and unpredictable work conditions, Kimberly’s team is challenging organisations to adopt a different approach to leadership development. Below, she discusses why moving beyond just skills-based leadership training toward a more developmental and sustainable leadership practice is the secret to future economic, professional and personal success.
Why do you believe leadership development is so important?
Leadership development isn’t just about influencing the commercial and cultural success of an organisation – although that is critical to the work we do. Leadership development is also important because it has the power to change people’s lives, relationships and communities.
When we challenge the way people think about how they practice leadership, we invite them to develop a deeper understanding of themselves and the mindset and habits that influence their decisions and how they relate to others. This doesn’t just impact their productivity and effectiveness at work, it has a ripple effect on other aspects of their lives. And because Brave Insights’ approach to leadership development is organisation-wide, it also has a ripple effect on the employees who aren’t necessarily in the room or part of a program, and on the communities and the environment that the organisation has a stake in.
When leadership is a practice inside an organisation people see the bigger impact of their choices, work more productively together, and navigate the complexity that work, relationships and life brings more skillfully.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve helped leaders work through?
Often, there are existing patterns or behaviours that work against the success that people seek, but they aren’t seen because they’re normed to the culture.
So the biggest challenge is often helping individuals and teams uncover the hidden barriers to their success. If leadership teams don’t uncover these then they risk investing lots of time, energy and resources only to experience little progress towards the outcome they seek.
The work of Brave Insights is to help uncover and disrupt this dynamic. Sometimes it presents as tension emerging between roles, unproductive meetings, ineffective decision making, or deeper biases like what is valued or is not valued.
An example might be a CEO who says that they want their leadership team to be more innovative and yet holds all the authority in meetings which constrains the team’s ability to take initiative and innovate. Or a team who say they want the CEO to empower them, yet don’t take up the responsibility of owning decisions and their outcomes leaving the CEO to feel like they must take up the leadership role in their areas also.
Even with a great strategy and the best intentions and a highly skilled leadership team, these dynamics can cause unproductive conflict and tensions which inhibit performance if they remain unsurfaced. So the challenge for us is to help leadership teams uncover these hidden barriers, disrupt them, and leave them with the ability to do this work without us in the future.
Have you noticed anything changing/shifting in leadership? Why is it changing and what does it mean for future leaders?
The last few years is probably the most rapid shift I’ve witnessed in leadership teams.
I am noticing a positive shift in the organisations we’ve worked with where gender diversity on leadership teams is getting the attention it has long deserved. It’s now more commonly viewed as a value creator for leadership teams and the absence of it a loss for their effectiveness. As you would expect, there are hidden barriers to making this change possible and sustainable, but I would say we seem to be reaching a tipping point.
I attribute this change to the Leadership being practised in both the business and public domains – more people are willing to take the risk of calling attention to the issues preventing inclusion. There are more male and female leaders who are willing to listen and be open to how they and their organisations can change.
I recently had a CEO approach me to discuss how to prepare his all male leadership team to ensure inclusion of a new female executive. This was music to my ears as normally I would be asked by clients to help prepare the women! Which then leads to a more challenging but necessary conversation about the leadership team’s own ways of operating and their impact on inclusion. The fact that male executives are now proactively taking ownership and responsibility for their part in creating the culture that effects inclusion gives me hope for future leaders.
You’re a female leader working in traditionally male-dominated teams and spaces – what allows you to disrupt the status quo?
(laughs) I used to think being a fairly short and bubbly woman in this work was a challenge but I now have the experience and wisdom to see how it is in fact an asset. The very fact that I am different to many of the people in the room is in itself a disruption to the norms of the team. I once had a leader tell me I am both disarming and disruptive which he attributed to how I get leadership teams to be more vulnerable and have difficult conversations.
It can be a risky balance to help leadership teams explore and also at times actively disrupt them. I find my values are my best guide in navigating this. We have to be courageous to take risks in service of our contracted goals with the client, whilst paying attention to what disruption will be most productive for the team.
I have to be very disciplined about where and how I focus people’s attention – it’s very easy for teams to get distracted by ego, personal agendas or different working styles so to practise leadership skillfully it’s important to keep the attention and conversation on the right issues that will help make the most progress.
What are the leadership capabilities you think female leaders need in the near future?
I don’t think there are any fundamental differences in the capabilities needed but I would say if you are entering senior leadership in any system that was not formed with your gender in mind then two things jump out to me as critical.
First, you need to deeply understand the context and dynamics you are operating within so you can navigate it skillfully. Second, ensure you know the value your role must create for all its stakeholders because at the end of the day mobilising stakeholders towards this is the work of leadership. Lastly, you need to be well aware of how you might get in your own way and have some trusted confidants who will be brave enough to tell you. That said, all leaders, female or male would do well to build this muscle because it’s critical to leading organisations and navigating complexity.
You are the female economy. Whether you are a female consumer, business owner or a woman in the workforce, you can create gender equality by choosing female led brands.
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