18 May 2023
When I was coming up in the marketing industry, I - like many others - spent a lot of my time learning through osmosis. By spending time shadowing great leaders or observing ‘bad’ leadership in action, and having the space to try things out and make mistakes, I was able to develop my own definition of leadership and success over time.
But my journey to becoming a leader took place in a workplace that doesn’t really exist in the same way any more. For businesses in today’s digital, post-covid world, our working environments look completely different to even a few years ago. And after decades of sustained transformation and change, we’ve had to promote people quicker and quicker without investing in helping them develop their unique leadership style and approach. The gaps are showing in those coming through, and it is a problem that needs addressing.
It’s this challenge that led AAR to develop our self-paced e-learning programme ‘No Bullsh*t Leadership’.
Created in partnership with award-winning author Chris Hirst, and based on his best-selling book of the same name, No Bullsh*t Leadership has been designed specifically to accelerate the development of more everyday leaders. To help people see themselves and act as leaders much earlier on in their journey.
We love Chris’ approach as it strips things right back and provides a pragmatic, practical framework to help individuals and organisations deepen and strengthen their leadership capabilities – which in today’s tumultuous landscape, is the surest way to accelerate your or your team’s growth. Without wanting to sound too dramatic, it helps democratise leadership training and will unlock potential in anyone who wants to make change happen.
So I’m sharing a few reasons why this is such a passion point of mine and why we feel this is such an important tool for businesses to take advantage of.
In 2023, only 40% of people reported that their company had high-quality leaders. And when people say leader, they immediately think about the CEO or the C-suite. In reality, a leader is anyone with influence, responsible for guiding people or projects from point A to point B. Understanding this is more important than ever. We see it first hand at AAR because clients are always pushing to see beyond the C-suite that they meet in pitches. They want to meet the ‘day to day’ leads. What they are saying is they want to meet the leaders that they know will have the most impact on their business, as they will be working with them day in and day out.
We have all been working through a challenging and sustained period of upheaval which has affected businesses everywhere. CEOs are increasingly reporting that they don’t believe their businesses are keeping up with customer change, and at AAR we’re regularly working with clients that are struggling to affect structural innovation fast enough to keep up with demand. Digital transformation has completely redefined the way we work, and our people are now required to master a wider - and ever-expanding - set of core skills.
Roles that previously would have been siloed are now far-reaching; if you’re a head of customer engagement, you’re now required to collaborate with almost every other project owner across the organisation. While you won’t have ownership of every moving part, you still need to be able to influence and collaborate with key stakeholders in a far broader context than ever before.
These changing demands also mean we’re promoting faster. But while the people we’re giving more responsibility to are brilliantly capable, they don’t have the experience and tools they need to navigate at this level.
The ability to manage all of this effectively is rooted in great leadership. It’s such a crucial skill set to be able to understand and articulate where people are, where they need to get to, and how to bring them on that journey. We need these skills and capabilities now. We don’t have time to wait for them to develop naturally, as we once could.
If brands, agencies, and businesses are going to be able to stand against the tidal wave of change we face, they desperately need to make the most of the fantastic leadership talent that exists within their industries, and invest - in the right way - in the people they already have.
Leadership isn’t top-down any more: so much leadership needs to come from the middle, and we need to unlock this. We need to help lift people with potential or responsibility out of the mindset of ‘I’m just here to do a job’ and into the mindset of ‘I’m going to lead and help affect real change’.
This is where you see dynamic growth and change happening. If you just see yourself as a cog in a machine, and you haven’t been shown how to unlock your leadership potential, you’ll probably do your job well and little else. But if you’re taught to see yourself as a leader earlier, and are given the tools to fully encompass the role of changemaker, the halo effect of what you can have an impact on is so much bigger.
For 2 years, I was the chair of WACL: Future Leaders Awards (now the WACL: Talent Awards), in which applicants had to identify the barrier that was personally stopping them from reaching their next level, and what training or course could help them achieve that milestone. What this made abundantly clear was that so many of us hit stumbling blocks, particularly around leadership, and great training and learning is the way to overcome them.
We also need to work really hard to ensure we don’t gate-keep. For too long, leadership has felt inaccessible to people who don’t come from a certain background of education or experience, and we need to challenge this damaging misconception.
That’s why AAR is working in partnership with the fantastic MAMA Youth Project on No Bullsh*t Leadership. MAMA Youth Project recruits, trains and nurtures young people aged between 18-25 from under-represented groups or with limited educational or employment opportunities, and for every two places sold on our No Bullsh*t Leadership programme, we’re offering one for free to MAMA Youth alumni.
This partnership speaks to the core of what No Bullsh*t Leadership is all about: demystifying leadership and making it accessible to those who might not see themselves as ‘traditional’ leaders, but who have real potential to transform business growth in their organisations - and throughout their careers and lives.
Addressing the leadership gap is going to take time and commitment, but we really believe that training programmes like No Bullsh*t Leadership are the key to unlocking success. We need to be proactive and invest in our future leaders.
We need to empower our people to develop the leadership skills and tools to excel, and we need to do so in a way that’s accessible, clear, concise, and practical. These are the guiding principles of No Bullsh*t Leadership, which is the antithesis of traditional leadership coaching. Offering participants total flexibility, it will make dynamic leaders out of people determined to make change happen.
Group learning and connection is a big part of the course too. We are building cohorts who are on a similar path and who can connect and share beyond the course. Connection is a powerful tool as you start to implement your learning in the real world. We want to create alumni groups who are supporting each other and learning through shared experiences.
We’re so excited to launch our inaugural programme with our first cohort in June of 2023; for more information about the contents of the course, and to take advantage of our discounted rate for this first cohort, head to the course website here. You can also watch our trailer to get a flavour of what the course involves, and hear from course leaders Vonnie and Chris as they explain why this is such a fantastic opportunity.
We will continually listen, learn and adapt the course and the alumni groups to make sure we are as valuable to these emerging leaders as possible. I’m excited to hear the feedback from our founding cohort in June.