The Sundridge Park course begins by trying to define what leadership is. (For some it can mean simply bossing people around; for others it means inspiring them: leadership affects people in different ways, depending on the jobs that they do - and on their personalities). But the essence of the course consists in trying to motivate people to make things happen.
Participants arrive on Sundridge Park courses from many different organisations. Some are at the beginning of their management careers, and might be expected to be less confident than those who have reached fairly senior positions. But many will be unsure of their power to influence and persuade people, while others - who may be assertive or even aggressive - may well lack sensitivity. The aim is to get them to look at themselves and see what abilities they need to develop.
Course members are then given exercises which put them into leadership positions, and allow them to demonstrate how they approach tasks and hope to achieve results. The exercises could be anything from a project to design and build an imaginary pyramid for a pharaoh. Working in teams of five or six, they would compete for the contract, doing the costings, meeting the specifications and making their tender as attractive as possible to the client. The process gives everyone an opportunity to lead at some stage. "It is important to create an unthreatening atmosphere, in which everyone can get some form of result," says van Maurik, "although the more interesting and seductive their tender is to the pharaoh, the more likely they are to win."
At the end of the exercise it is possible to examine why the winning team was successful, and what leadership qualities were shown. This leads on to a general discussion about the nature of leadership. In most cases it is about having a clear vision of where you want things to go, managing the change process, and communicating your vision to people whose help you will need to carry it through. It is about planning, inspiring, communicating and motivating. But in a management context it is also about controlling - keeping tabs on things like budgets. A management leader needs to be able to communicate with his or her own group, and to represent that group to other departments or companies. It is important to use the right leadership skills in the right contexts, which means being sensitive to the needs of any given set of circumstances.
All of this, however, begs a very big question. It is all too easy to talk about the theoretical aspects of any element of management. It is for practical help in acquiring skills that most people attend courses. So exactly how should they go about motivating people to give that 10% or 20% more effort? How can they actually persuade someone to do something which he may not want to do? "We create case studies in which delegates have to persuade one another," replies van Maurik. "It could mean persuading people to do something they don't want to do, or motivating someone who has a performance problem - tackling the poor performer."
There are many theories of motivation but, according to van Maurik, they boil down to a few major rules. "One is to communicate properly what you want, because too many people are expected to work in limbo without knowing what the end result of their labours is going to be. If the targets aren't clear how can you expect people to aim for them? Next you have to be clear about 'what's in it for them', since all people have their own agenda ... If you can provide them with a personal reason to act you are more likely to be able to take them with you."
In order to persuade people to follow, a leader needs to demonstrate an interest in his subordinates' personal development. A leader needs constantly to be looking for signs of creativity among his staff, and then of finding ways to harness these talents. The success of this sort of approach has been demonstrated by the companies which have taken the step of making people responsible for the quality of their own work. "As soon as you show trust in people," says van Maurik, "they will demonstrate their abilities to be mini-leaders. It requires sensitivity to be able to recognise ability in others."