Creating employability skills for future leaders
The disruptive effect of readily available and affordable technology has opened up numerous opportunities; ones that our current generation of leaders may never have imagined possible in their lifetimes.
Yet to a younger generation of leaders, these possibilities are merely the norm. The interconnectedness offered by technology is an intrinsic part of their lives. This enables them to view the world with fresh perspectives, allowing them to engage globally however, whenever, and for whatever reasons they want.
With an abundance of creative potential ahead of them, how can we prepare and equip the future generation of leaders to navigate this world of constant flux, uncertainty and opportunity?
Quintessential took on the challenge of equipping future leaders with the basic employability skills to navigate this world. We helped to design and deliver an innovative program at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) with support from Engineers Australia – College of Leadership & Management Queensland (EA-CLMQ).
Called Harnessing the Power of Teams, the program was designed to equip fourth-year construction engineers with leadership skills derived from solution-focused coaching methodology, which importantly sought to enhance their employability skills.
Through a combination of interactive workshop learning, task-based activities, and ongoing coaching and development support, the program provided them with realistic experiences in developing people and teams, fostering collaboration, and being adaptable as the environment around them changed. It prepared them for the challenges that they will face when entering the workforce for the first time.
To demonstrate the power of coaching, Quintessential had the engineers undertake a ‘design and build’ task. The task was based on the famous ‘Marshmallow Challenge’ where teams competed to build the tallest structure possible with nothing more than 20 spaghetti sticks, 1 metre of sticky tape, and 1 metre of string. The team with the tallest structure would be the winner, providing that it could support the weight of the marshmallow placed on the very top.
We pitted the engineers against the teaching team consisting of organisational psychologists and research officers. There was one distinction: we coached the teaching team in the true sense of coaching, i.e., we were not allowed to offer solutions and we could only ask questions related to their thinking around the design and build process.
After 20 minutes… success for the teaching team! As for the budding construction engineers… well, they gave it a good shot, but unfortunately their grand designs were unable to stand unaided and therefore failed the success criteria. It was, however, a profound way of demonstrating the power of coaching to the engineers.
Learning principles for future leaders
When designing the program, Quintessential coupled the solutions-focused coaching approach with some basic principles of complexity in order to leverage the inherent benefits of team diversity, natural ways of working, and the phenomenon of small changes resulting in large effects.
- Diverse approach. In order to properly address complex problems, a repertoire of responses is required that is at least as diverse as the problems being faced. The Leaders-as-Coach facilitated exploring and appreciating different points of view, thereby enabling the benefits of shared leadership to be realised. The students were taught that highly effective teams are rarely in unanimous agreement. They can however leverage the diversity of their views and construct pathways forward.
- Observe & Learn. This approach enables the formation and observation of evolving patterns with which to learn. Human systems such as teams are complex and, over time, develop ways of working from the cumulative effect of the individual contributors. The Leaders-as-Coach fostered emergence by sharing, integrating and mobilising the diverse contributions of their team members. This allowed them to learn, evaluate and adapt their way of working to the changing landscape. These outcomes are not attained through deliberate actions, but rather by creating an environment that cultivates a natural system of working.
- Small changes – big impacts. This is a powerful change lever. Small, well-placed changes can lead to large effects, creating ripples through the team and/or organisation (similar to the famous ‘butterfly effect’). The power of these small changes is often far more effective than large-scale change programs. Coaching works at the individual level. The Leaders-as-Coach challenged their team’s mindsets and belief systems. They discovered freedom from the assumptions that constrained them from fully utilising their talents, skills and experiences, and this opened up new possibilities and pathways that led to better opportunities.
Why use coaching?
We knew that the essence of solution-focused coaching is its power to identify and co-create a range of options to be explored with the coachee. We provided the fourth-year engineers with a leadership mindset of ‘encouraging others to create solutions’, which challenged the dominant engineering mindset of ‘creating solutions for others’.
By asking powerful questions, we encouraged the coaches to invite the coachee into a dialogue of clarifying, discovery and action at a whole new level, which revealed a range of potential pathways that had been previously unrecognised and/or unexplored.
Follow initial pilots of this approach, the program has now been running for over 4 years at the QUT Science & Engineering faculty. Mentors from Engineers Australia regularly participate in the program, offering their guidance, knowledge and wisdom in helping develop employability skills.
The constructive nature of solution-focused coaching is derived from positive psychology. We adopted this approach with a view to overcoming the personal and professional challenges the coachee faces in everyday life by leveraging their values, strengths, virtues, talents and skills.
Coaching enabled this by:
- Exploring and appreciating the challenges we face from a variety of perspectives
- Creating an environment that allows solutions to emerge through discussion and discovery
- Appreciating when to take deliberate action and knowing when to allow a natural evolution of events to occur
- Leveraging small changes for a big impact through a process of co-creation.
What is really exciting and hopeful about the solutions-focused approach is the affirmation that transformative change can emerge from very small shifts in behaviour.
I have known Pat for approximately 20 years, initially meeting when working at Boeing, then moving to Eurocopter and staying in contact ever since. I
have found Pat to be one of those rare individuals who uses a personal touch to achieve technical outcomes. Pat’s strengths lay in his broad technical background and experience, coupled with genuine empathy and ability to develop high-performing teams.
I recently worked closely with Patrick during the development and delivery of the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) funded Australia Awards Fellowship Program entitled, ‘Responding to Skilled Worker Demand: Improving Quality, Leadership and Management of TVET’ in Vietnam. Throughout the delivery of this Fellowship Program Patrick was responsible for facilitating training activities in the areas of transformational leadership, personal leadership, leading teams, project management and change management. Patrick did an outstanding job in this position demonstrating his agility in effectively and efficiently responding to emerging challenges as well as contextualizing training content to meet the needs of his audience, in this case senior leaders from Vietnam’s Ministry of Construction.
Patrick Albina is a highly intelligent, insightful professional who has the rare ability to balance a high level of technical capacity with a sophisticated approach to dealing with people at all levels. And because of this powerful dual perspective, Patrick has outstanding influencing and engagement skills.
Working with Patrick Albina on the AIR9000 Ph8 bid was a truly positive experience. Pat’s attention to detail assured the highest quality material was prepared and submitted. His enthusiasm and vigour for the product being offered never waned, along with his determination to ensure all customer requirements were fully satisfied. I wholly recommend Patrick to any organisation looking to engage a dedicated, self-motivated and highly personable team-player.
Patrick Albina is a highly motivated, intelligent professional with keen skills of insight and perspective that are required to be effective in managing organisational complexity. He has the capacity to embrace the technical aspects as well as the people and relational issues which makes him excellent in his influencing and sense making skills to understand and make long term effective change in organisations.
Since mid 2014, Patrick’s coaching has helped me define and develop a values based approach to my career. We consistently meet to discuss my progress and I receive objective feedback from Patrick that I put into our action before our next meeting. This action and feedback loop is the most powerful and effective professional development work I have done to date. For anyone looking to accelerate their career, I highly recommend contacting Patrick.
Patrick has been the lead consultant on a number of projects in recent years for CASG, ranging from a comprehensive tailored learning and development framework, asset management principles adaptation to strategic organisational reform and change management. His skills, experience and capability to communicate effectively and strategically with all stakeholders is outstanding. As well as delivering exceptional value, he is always going above and beyond, delivering ongoing strategic value to the organisation more broadly.
We engaged Patrick to provide subject matter expertise to our Product Management Implementation Project, established to deliver a tailored design and implementation of ISO 55000 Asset Management principles to enhance CH-47F Chinook Product Management. Throughout our 12 month engagement, he provided valuable guidance and practical assistance in all project stages including, problem framing and design; change management; procedure development and practical implementation; observation and feedback; and communication (internal and external). He proved a highly effective enabler to achieving our objectives and ultimately a successful and resilient project outcome.