Lessons Learned Behind the Prison Walls

Lessons Learned Behind the Prison Walls

I spent time in prison, a long time ago.

Before you get nervous, let me explain.

I studied psychology and criminology. As part of my criminology degree, I worked on a program called “Scared Straight” with my professors.

We took young criminals (males between the ages of 18-24) into the Anamosa State Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison, located in eastern Iowa.

Criminal researchers and practitioners believed that when young criminals saw what prison life was 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 had measurable success, when one important distinction took place.

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 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 Anamosa prison experience reinforces how futile individual change efforts are if the environment does not change.

Taking leaders out of their team and out of their environment for individual development is not the best way to improve leadership performance and will not have any impact on your organization results.

Leadership development should and must take place as a team experience.

This is why I believe that we should not coach leaders 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.

We need to distinguish between leader development, that is support for an individual leader and leadership development, which involves the leader and her team.

This is the central topic in Chapter 10 of my book, Executive Ownershift, Creating Highly Effective Leadership Teams, now available through Amazon or Springer Publishing.

Individual leader development can support behavioral or skills issues for individuals, but only leadership development, as a team, can improve both leadership performance and improving organizational results.

More emphasis on leadership as a team endeavor will create competitive advantage over those organizations that continue to view leadership as a solo or individualistic experience.



Photo by Emiliano Bar on Unsplash

Contact Information

Dan Norenberg
Wensauerplatz 11
81245 Munich
Phone: +49 172 862 5123

About Dan Norenberg

Dan Norenberg improves leadership performance and organization results through Executive Ownershift®, his transformational growth process for executive teams. As a trusted advisor, consultant and professional speaker, Dan’s mission is to enable executive teams and their organizations to play at their best.