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Managers salute impact of Lancaster’s ‘Wilderness Thinking’

Leaders from Airbus UK and TOTAL have hailed the success of Lancaster University Management School’s unique approach to leadership development in new research published in Development and Learning in Organizations.

Fifty managers who experienced the Lancaster ‘learning retreat’ – a 48-hour period of individual reflection in the Lake District – reported significant benefits for their personal and organizational development, the study found.

The retreat, termed Wilderness Thinking, was set up three years ago to encourage managers to step back from the pressures of everyday life and set personal goals. Participants spend two days on a mountainside considering working practices and relationships, lifestyle changes and personal and professional development, before taking up individual coaching sessions on Lancaster’s leadership development programmes. This approach was initially adopted by Airbus UK and TOTAL, for which Lancaster runs bespoke leadership courses, and has since been rolled out to other public, private and voluntary organizations.

Report co-author Dr Sally Watson, Lancaster’s Director of Executive Education, said the study proved that the learning process enabled managers to take stock of their leadership capabilities. “We’ve found the retreat helps managers become more people-orientated in their leadership style – some managers, particularly those from a technical background, are not comfortable with the human side of leadership,” Dr Watson explained. “This experience puts them in touch with their emotions and gives them greater levels of self confidence.”

There were many other benefits, Dr Watson said. “Attendance on the programme has helped participants develop their career prospects and many have been offered promotion and greater responsibilities as a result. For many, it has also brought a determination to establish a healthier work-life balance and a realisation that being ‘stressed out’ has a negative impact on staff.”

Dr Watson said the research also confirmed the school of thinking that the process of retreat was a catalyst for individual learning.

Phil Smith | alfa
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