LIVED® Leadership Development – enabling effective learning for a VUCA World

The size of the challenge

As the 2011 DDI/CIPD Global Leadership Survey declares at its outset “Quality of Leadership can either make or break the success and sustainability of any organisation” (p.2). Their research demonstrated powerfully that organisations with the highest quality leaders were much more likely to outperform their competition in key bottom-line metrics and, moreover, are more commonly those organisations with highly motivated and engaged staff who stay longer in a role.  If we accept Nigel Povah’s principle, as espoused in his June 2016 article ‘Leadership Development for the 21st century’, that leaders have to be right for the time and right for the circumstances that their organisations face, what does this mean for those of us tasked to design and facilitate ‘solutions’ to fill gaps in leaders’ competencies? How can we balance the demands of creating programmes that are bespoke (maybe even individual to meet very specific needs), ‘vs’ the practicalities of limited budgets, the time that leaders can carve out to participate in self-development and all the advantages that come from leaders learning together, whether within and across their home organisation or networking more widely with leaders from other sectors?

And as if this isn’t enough of a challenge, how do we respond to the gauntlet thrown down in the McKinsey article of January 2014 of the 4 most common mistakes made by organisations in trying to improve the capabilities of managers and nurturing new leaders? This article shares a&dc’s response and lessons learned from the creation of its flagship LIVED leadership development programme, designed to complement an accompanying assessment process.

The context

The acronym VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – has been commonly used in business parlance for at least the last 10 years. However, surely with the imminent consequences of Brexit and the arrival of the Trump administration in the US, VUCA has never been more relevant and important? Yet in a&dc’s continued work with a wide range of UK and global businesses, whilst HR colleagues acknowledge its significance, we remain disappointed that  there appears to be real reluctance amongst C-suite colleagues to seriously engage with what this kind of world could look like and mean for their businesses. As Learning and Development (L&D) professionals, we know instinctively that leadership development plays an important role in planning for and navigating these stormy waters.

Gurdjian, Halbeisen and Lane’s work cites research from 2012 that estimated US companies were spending almost $14 billion annually on leadership development alone.  Here in the UK, the 2015 CIPD learning and development survey reported that 80% of respondent companies cited planning leadership development activities within the coming year; moreover, a key area for the focus of that development was the enhancement of the skills of new and existing leaders to think in a more strategic and future focused way. Yet, in the McKinsey article we also read that UK business school findings suggest that that only 7% of senior managers believe that their companies develop leaders and managers effectively. So clearly whilst just about any business sees investment in their leadership cadres as critical to future success, there’s still much work to be done to ensure that all this money and time are well spent.

 a&dc’s end-to-end response – the LIVED®  leadership development programme

Povah’s 2016 article outlines the research and development process that resulted in the creation of a&dc’s response to the challenge of VUCA – the LIVED® model (shown below) and leadership assessment process, useful for both selection and development purposes.


Both the LIVED® and LIVED-lite® assessment processes result in high quality, detailed and objective evidence of leadership capabilities (strengths and areas for continued development) for each of the model’s dimensions. In the context of personal development for individual leaders – at any of the first four levels of Charan, Drotter and Noel’s Leadership Pipeline  – and indeed for the businesses that employ them, the obvious next questions are ‘so what?’ and ‘now what?’; in particular, the options for plugging the gaps that have been identified.

Clearly, one size should never fit all (especially in respect of leadership development) so our task was to design a learning solution that was of high quality, yet flexible enough to respond to the demands of very different kinds of organisations, business sectors and cultures, individual needs and interests; whilst also offering a cost and time-effective solution.

What became the core development programme is illustrated below.

This development programme aims to:

  • Equip leaders to grapple more confidently with an increasingly fast paced world in which VUCA is the new normal;
  • Support leaders to develop and improve leadership skills aligned to the LIVED®  model’s five dimensions, balancing skills development with exploration of business context; aligned to the individual’s current and next level of the leadership pipeline; and
  • Through a rich variety of assessment and development methodologies, enable leaders to deliver tangible business results for their sponsoring organisation.

Its key features include:

  • Pre-programme organisational scanning to ensure that the content of the programme is aligned to organisational context and culture;
  • Pre and post development programme assessment to measure learning programme end impact; on-going review of progress with personal learning goals and end of module commitments;
  • Five one-day workshops, each focused on exploring in a practical way the dimension’s three elements for individual leaders, their teams and businesses;
  • Recommended, flexible programme additions (individual/group coaching and/or action learning, masterclasses) to enhance the learning experience and application;
  • Tool-kit of resources for on-going support and new ideas/information.

Meeting McKinsey’s challenges

Hopefully it’s already becoming clear how in the design of the programme we have sought to overcome the four common mistakes that Gurdjian, Halbeisen and Lane highlighted in their McKinsey research.

  • Overlooking context – for a&dc this underlines the importance of organisational scanning, including an in-depth look at culture (organisational and national where appropriate). This data shapes the adaptation of the material to suit the specific audience; alongside consideration of the Leadership Pipeline level of participants (actual and desired) and the resulting adaptation of programme delivery to suit these.
  • Decoupling reflection from real work – action learning and/or project work ideally sits alongside the core modules, as does individual and/or group coaching. Our evaluation of programmes run to date proves the value of these add-ons, in addition to constant support and challenge through facilitator questioning and in-module exercises to relate what is being explored to the workplace. Finally, personal journals and workbooks offer encouragement to programme participants to relate learning to past and current experience.
  • Underestimating mind-sets[1] – this is done throughout the programme through use of a range of psychometric tools[2]; questioning and exploration, but especially in the content of the Values and Emotions modules.
  • Failing to measure resultsa&dc’s evaluation framework which offers clients the Greatest Certainty that any investment in our solutions delivers the desired impact informs the development of a bespoke strategy to ensure during and post-programme assessment happens. This typically includes measures of pre and post programme 360 data, progress towards personal programme development goals, achievement of post-module Commitments to Change and Sustainability Set meetings.

And, by way of a final quality check, the programme design was benchmarked against a&dc’s development design principles:

Practising what we preach

Learning is at the core of the LIVED® model (if its five dimensions are the digits on your hand, Learning would be the thumb – you can’t be effective without it!), so we must do likewise with our own leadership development programme and continue to adapt and respond to feedback. We need to close the loop with our on-going evaluation to ensure that what we are delivering is as good as we can possibly make it.

To date the programme has been run successfully at Levels 1, 2 and 4 of the Leadership Pipeline, here in the UK and overseas, for both a&dc clients and partners, so we’re beginning to build up a useful picture of how the programme works best in practice. We’d be happy to share with readers key findings and themes from our evaluation, but in essence we seem to be getting it right – it’s very common to read comments like:

  • “I am finding that I can take practical tools away from the training and deliver them with my team.”
  • “Important learning about how my values massively affect my daily work.”
  • “A really good mix of discussion, exercises and theory. Well-paced with lots of new learning and a feeling of being stretched.”

Programme facilitators and leaders’ managers also have a key part to play in reporting learning:

  • “Significant shift in knowledge and confidence re personal responsibilities to create a learning culture within their team.”
  • “As with earlier modules, levels of knowledge and confidence to apply learning has generally been sustained and, in some cases, increased from the end of module assessment by the time of the 1st Sustainability Set meeting.”
  • “The Sustainability Set meeting was really encouraging. I was struck by the level of support offered to each other in solving a current leadership challenge; the sheer quality of the questions asked was impressive and observations/examples offered led many to comment that their colleagues had offered important new insights.”

Always valued highly is the practical nature of the programme and the methodologies and the tools used and offered. Sponsoring organisations have acknowledged really important learning both for the organisation as a whole, as well as for the individual leaders. Best results are seen where coaching is offered in support of and alongside the five one-day modules.

The core workshops are most commonly facilitated on a monthly basis, but in some instances it just isn’t feasible to get 12 busy leaders together for one day, so we’ve been challenged to find alternative ways to deliver some or all of the same material, including a quotation to develop one-to-one coaching sessions for the whole programme content – and so the design journey begins again – not from scratch this time round, but nevertheless requiring us to remain alert to the same demands for adaptation and change as those leaders for whom the programme is designed.

In (LIVED) conclusion

Within a&dc the LIVED®  dimensions are as important to us as they are to the practice of leadership, so there’s no better way to close this piece than by relating the model’s dimensions to our own practice as leadership development specialists:

Learning – the importance of providing agility to tackle the unforeseen challenges of leadership development design and delivery.
Intellect  – to cope with the complexity and unpredictability of enabling leaders to learn and develop in and for a VUCA world.
Values – to serve as our ‘true north’ through uncertain times.
a4  Emotions – to enable us and our learner Leaders to continue to understand and relate to others.
a5 Drive – to take forward a culture for learning and our organisations with real passion.


Charan, R; Drotter, S and Noel, J The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company, Josey-Bass, 2011


CIPD Learning and Development 2015, Annual Survey Report

DDI/CIPD Global Leadership forecast 2011, UK highlights

Gurdjian, P; Halbeisen, T and Lane, K Why Leadership Development Programs Fail

January 2014

Povah, N. Leadership Development in the 21st century: the need for a new approach’, September 2016 Government Business Magazine, Volume 23.5

[1] This is about addressing root causes of behaviour – assumptions, thoughts, feelings, beliefs

[2] Saville’s Wave profile has been mapped against the LIVED framework, pre and post development programme 360, a&dc’s Resilience tool and Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles inventory

Karen West, FCIPD, MSc, MEd, B.A. Hons

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