I spent time in prison, a long time ago. Before you delete me from your contact list, let me explain.
I studied psychology and criminology. As part of my criminology degree, I worked on a program with my professors where we took young criminals into a maximum-security prison.
Criminal researchers and practitioners believed that when young criminals saw what prison life was really like, it would be so unpleasant that they would change their ways. Robbing small stores, stealing cars, and carrying an unlicensed firearm were some of their offences.
It was a tough setting, six to eight prison inmates, sitting in a circle with me, my professor, and some not so seasoned, young criminals. In each corner of the room, a prison guard stood with a high-powered rifle, ready to neutralize situations that escalated. The older men (many of them in for life sentences) taunted the young criminals with a lot of profanity. They told these young men to change their ways before it was too late.
The program was effective for some, others not, and here is the important distinction.
As profound as these experiences were, many of the men went back into the environments they came from. Back to an environment of drugs, violence, gangs, and few of them had both parents at home. These young men returned quickly to their old habits. Some of them were fortunate, however, and were placed in foster homes, away from their old neighborhood, old connections, and old habits.
Those in new environments did vastly better, stayed out of trouble much better than the group that “returned home”.
My prison experiences remind me how difficult individual change efforts are if the people around you, the environment or system around you, does not change.
Too many leaders are still being coached in isolation. Sending a coached leader back into an uncoached team will not be as impactful as the leader and her entire team learning, improving, and committing to change together.
Business is a team sport and leadership development creates the most impact when it’s done within the team setting, yet too many organizations design leadership development as if it’s a one on one sport.
Enabling individuals might keep you in the game, while enabling teams means you will dominate the game. You don’t need to spend time in prison to learn that lesson.
How do you ensure that your leadership teams are learning together, so that they can win together?
Image by Ashwin Vaswani @ Unsplash