SERIOUS GAMING IN LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT
When considering corporate management, modern thinkers emphasize the importance of having inspiring leaders.
Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones summarize essential leadership skills in the following question: Why should anyone be led by you? They state that inspiring leaders show four defining characteristics: they have a strong sense for developments in their environment, they truly practise empathy, they know how to show their weaknesses and they dare to be different.
This shows how hard it is to be responsible for corporate leadership development. Is it even possible to develop the very personal skills that lie at the heart of being someone who will someday lead the organisation?
Of course this is possible. Serious gaming has very distinctive characteristics that can make a valuable contribution to the development of professionals. Just as they can help train airline pilots, military officers and fire commanders, games can make a special contribution to the development of leadership skills.
Games are capable of truly touching people’s hearts. Influential gaming scholar Ivo Wenzler introduced the concept of 'memories of the future'. According to Wenzler, a well-designed game can give (potential) leaders a meaningful and thus lasting new experience that alters the way they look at the world and themselves. Even though games won't completely replace existing management teaching methods, they can add several dimensions to a (blended) leadership development program.
First of all, a game can give a leadership trainee a fictional, yet highly realistic and meaningful context for the topics of the management development program. In the game world, trainers and puppet masters can confront trainees with problems that remind them of their daily working life. Trainers get the tools to adapt the game's goals - on the fly - to the individual needs and skill level of trainees. The level of pressure and stress on the teams can instantly be increased or decreased.
Within the challenging but safe game environment, trainees are stimulated to freely experiment with their behaviour and to leave their natural comfort zones. Within the game context, they can experiment without having to worry about negative consequences - which they would avoid in their normal jobs. Trainees start to internalise completely new concepts, instead of exploring the concepts they're used to. This leads to a new level of personal development.
Perception is reality
Secondly, the context and challenges that the trainees will face are very similar to the challenges in their day-to-day jobs. Storylines, realistic visuals, e-mail and mobile communication can enhance this feeling of realism, making everything they experience in the game world feel real.
As a result, in their attempt to master the game, the trainees tend to forget that they're in a management training. The gaming world is their new reality. Ultimately, this results in trainees starting to act and behave authentically, just like they do in their daily working practice. They stop trying to show socially desirable behaviour.
Additionally, the players have to solve the problems that they encounter, from the inside, out. Due to their active involvement in the game, they're no longer looking at a problem from a distance. Instead, they're now part of the problem - and often, they discover that they themselves are the problem.
DEVELOPMENT OF LEADERSHIP ETHICS
If there is one thing that the recent global financial crisis has reminded us of, it is that when systems, structures, protocols and rules fail, leaders must do the job.
During the last two centuries, especially in western economies, business leaders have focused on the creation of shareholder value. Along the way, they had seemingly forgotten about other important responsibilities: creating wealth and social cohesion for employees, stimulating social wealth in society, being a moral example and taking care of the planet's conservation.
Development of business ethics
Within companies today, there's a strong awareness of the importance of sustainable business and corporate integrity. Nevertheless, it's still hard to implement sustainability values within daily operations. Creating a sense of urgency is not the problem - actually changing people's behaviour is.
Corporate leadership should be businesses' primary guide when it comes to ethics. As Eduard Kimman, a recognized scholar in business ethics, sees it,organizations are starting to (re)learn questioning what is right and wrong for employees, suppliers, clients and society.
Furthermore, Kimman says that business ethics are not something that you can just impose on people. In order to develop them, people should be placed in a 'secure insecure' environment that confronts them with their values and beliefs. An environment that stimulates them and the people around them to question their prime values and the effects on their behaviour.
The 'secure insecure' gaming environment
Developing personal values is an essential part of management development programs.
The obvious problem is that in a standard classroom situation, everyone will agree that it's important to manage on an integer basis. But what happens when managers face real moral dilemmas and strong pressure in their daily jobs? What is the impact of loyalty conflicts with colleagues, or authority conflicts with superiors? How do managers deal with the tension between short term profit and long term sustainability?
Serious games are a powerful tool to stimulate the development of corporate ethics, because they have the ability to create the aforementioned 'secure insecure' environment. Games can give people challenges that truly confront them with moral dilemmas. Trainees and trainers can start examining personal values and beliefs and because of the condensed time, trainees can experience the long term effects of their short term behaviour.
Ultimately games help trainees to become strong, authentic and independent personalities.