Practical training improving leadership skills

3 April 2022

Leadership training for those working in the primary industries including forestry is helping people to lead others. Andy Smith, principal of training provider About Life in New Zealand, says typically people with good technical skills are promoted to lead others with an assumption they’ll be good leaders of people but that is not necessarily the case.

“The next thing is you find a person grappling with leading a team, responsible for production and output, with normally little opportunity for development. A friend on Friday, boss on Monday situation. They often become overwhelmed and pressurised. In my experience, this can drive other behaviours as coping mechanisms such as bullying, abdication and absenteeism.”

His company provides a training workshop that uses practical activities to teach the value of a five-step structured methodology to leadership:

• The first step is to discuss and agree what you want to achieve and why it is important.
• The second step is to discuss and agree who will do what by when, and whoever is doing the work gets the biggest say in how they will do this. This step requires a good understanding of the capabilities of team members.
• Thirdly, give and receive feedback about how the job is progressing and provide any new information.
• Fourthly, remove obstacles for people so they can perform as agreed. This may require coaching.
• And fifthly, recognise people’s effort in a way that is meaningful for the individual.

The practical activities show participants first-hand what happens if the first step is missed. Understanding why a task is important is vital if something unexpected happens, as it empowers the person to adapt and make better decisions. The practical, problem-solving activities cater for tactile learners who learn by doing and who predominate in the primary industries, says Andy Smith.

“Schools often cater for the academic or those good at sport; leaving the tactile reflective learners behind – I was one of them – and a person talking at me from the front of the room was not engaging. There are multiple intelligences; the tactile learners know they’re smart, but they’ve never had it acknowledged.”

Angela Blom, Health and Safety Advisor at Pan Pac Forest Products Ltd based at Napier, was one of a group of 10 Pan Pac staff to attend a course in October and says they all learned by doing and found it applicable to their roles.

“The activities helped the group understand group dynamics and why things fail when good leadership and influence is not applied, and what good looks like when it’s done well. It also highlighted why good communication skills are a must. Everyone picked up something different to take away. The key was to understand our leadership style – everyone has a different style – and that leadership is about influence”.

“It helped us understand people better – what the motivators are that lie beneath. It also gave us a structure for how to begin a discussion with a person who is not performing. One of the things I really liked was a follow-up text before Christmas with a link to a YouTube video that was a reminder of what we learned. That was brilliant.”

Angela is responsible for health and safety across Pan Pac’s entire forestry group which is a fully integrated operation from planting to harvesting, processing and international despatch. This encompasses “all the risks known to man” including manual tree felling, driving logging trucks and flying helicopters.

“I’m a risk-averse person. I like the rules. We want to get home safely. It’s my role to help others do that.” Pan Pac has been based in the Hawke’s Bay for almost 50 years and employs over 400 staff.

Andy says 95 people have been through the Leading a High Performing Team workshop since May 2021, 24 from forestry and wood processing. Courses have been held around New Zealand, funded by the Ministry of Primary Industries. Those who filled out assessment surveys ranked their learning experience and people engagement tools very highly.

Fiona Ewing, Forest Industry Safety Council (FISC) national safety director and deputy chair of the Forestry and Wood Processing Workforce Council, has promoted the workshops to forestry companies. FISC has partnered with About Life for a number of years on leadership workshops resulting in 600 forestry workers now participated.

Fiona is developing a directory of all leadership courses being used in the sector and would like input. “The Council ranks leadership and communications skills training as a priority for the forestry and wood processing workforce.

“We have seen material changes and benefits in forestry crews and organisations who have participated in these workshops and implemented these skills. There is improved worker engagement and participation, reduced absenteeism and happier people who work better together.”

Source: Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service