Making Popcorn

Developing leaders is a lot like making popcorn.  It’s a transformational process: we start with kernels and end up with fully expanded, delicately crunchy delicious popcorn.  There is a process for making popcorn.  There is a process for making leaders.

 Let’s start with the basics.

To make popcorn we need to have a container.  To develop leaders, there has to be an organizational context; leaders aren’t effective unless they understand and respond to that context. Because of that HCD believes that development programs need to be carefully crafted to work within YOUR context.

Developing leaders needs to start with the point, where are we going?  Why do we want to go there?  How do we want our future to be? Just like with popcorn the success of the process depends on the amount of space provided.  Keeping the lid on results in suboptimal popping.  In the case of leadership, you and your management need to be prepared to create the space for leaders to develop.  This may mean the space on top management calendars; the space for risk-taking or experimentation, the space for the cultural changes that support new behaviours.  We will support you in describing and defining the container; your top management must be willing to engage in the conversation.

You cannot make popcorn without heat.  Organizational “heat” (some people call it energy) includes the organizational will to change, the pressures of the market, customer demands for performance and what behaviours you reward in the organization.  Popcorn doesn’t pop unless enough pressure builds up for the transformation.  Our job is to help you focus on the key sources of energy driving leader development in your organization and to apply them at the right level.  No heat, no popcorn.  Too much heat, carbon.

Traditionally popcorn is cooked in oil.  Choosing the right oil is important because it has to be able to stand up to the temperatures required to pop the corn.  HCD will work with you to decide the right pace for developing your leaders, the right experiences, tools and frameworks to support development in your culture.  

Not all kernels pop.  Whether or not kernels pop depends on whether or not they have sufficient moisture to make the steam required to burst through the hull.  Dried out popcorn doesn’t pop.  The same is true of people; overstressed, wrung-out people will have difficulty with transformation; people need to have internal resources to be able to change and grow.  At HCD, we include processes to refresh and renew those internal resources; we call it development coaching.  Nevertheless, not all kernels will pop.

The taste of popcorn depends on the popcorn and what you season it with.  Will your leaders be focused on customers?  Employees? Results? Values? Cost reduction? Innovation? You may be tempted to say all of the above.  Now imagine popcorn with sea salt, butter, caramel, chilli pepper and cheese; not so appealing?  Part of our job is to help you choose the right condiments so that your leadership approach is actually edible.

The smell of popcorn will make people hungry.  Once leaders start developing in an organization, the appetite for growth picks up.  More people want the chance to transform into something desirable and delicious.  HCD provides support to help you create self-sustaining learning in your organization and to provide learning environments appropriate at various levels in your organization.  But be forewarned, the smell of popcorn stimulates appetite.



Beth mAcdonald


2 thoughts on “Making Popcorn

  1. This is a nifty way to think about leadership. It’s comprehensive, and I’m in a bit of danger of being overwhelmed by all the ideas. I’d love to hear what some of our clients think about all this.

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