Leaders learn to take the heat

MANAGEMENT development programmes have become ever more ambitious over the years, but few can rival that currently being undertaken by a group from GKN, writes Roger Trapp.

Seven managers from the company's automotive driveline division are spending a week building a bakery at an orphanage in Sao Paolo, Brazil as the final part in a year-long leadership scheme.

Michael Appel, management development director for the division, explained that the initiative was set in train by the managers themselves when they were looking at new ways of leadership. They wanted to go beyond "classical seminars and programmes" and create events that would be completely different. The contact came through someone involved in the scheme.

Once it was felt that the project - designed to help the orphanage help itself by generating its own income - had met the various criteria set by the group, the challenge became one of raising money for the materials as well as for the flights from the participants' home bases in various parts of the world.

"All this had to be achieved as they went about their day-to-day jobs," said Mr Appel. Moreover, the building project is being carried out during the managers' holidays.

GKN has been running development courses of this type for about five years, but Mr Appel, who is based in Germany, said this was the first which had not been related directly to the company. Previously, they had largely dealt with internal communications.

Mr Appel sees the value of the scheme in personal as well as organisational development. Younger managers, in particular, see that they can make an impact through their ideas and actions.

"The Brazil project is just a vehicle. The people on the course have overcome resistance and have fired each other to succeed," he said.

As evidence of this he described how Lufthansa, the German airline, was persuaded to provide two flights from Germany to Brazil. Although all its flights at the time were booked, it kept its word by arranging for two seats on another carrier.