How to avoid failing with leadership development

Leadership development can be a costly business. Don’t waste time & resources on putting together a programme that fails to bring you the results you are looking for.
Here are the top 5 things to consider before investing in leadership development.

1. Make sure they’re up for it

Not all people in leadership positions recognise how their performance needs to change in order to meet organisational/departmental objectives. For someone to engage fully and benefit in a lasting way from leadership development, it is essential that they recognise, acknowledge and understand their personal ‘skills gap’, and the reasons why new skills and behaviours are required. Easier said than done! This could happen via usual performance management techniques such as appraisal, job chats, performance feedback sessions etc. Another useful tool is using a psychometric profile to demonstrate personal strengths and areas for development. 360 degree feedback can also produce valuable insight into how others perceive you. You can benchmark this information with your own which again validates strengths and identifies potential for development.

2. Gain senior management support

Without the full backing of the leader’s line manager, any benefit from the leadership development activity will be short lived. It is essential that a leader taking steps to implement new skills is fully supported whilst they go through this transformation period. The support might take place through conversations, feedback, observation, questions about what’s been taking place etc. Amazingly, we still run leadership programmes where a delegate’s phone rings, and its their boss asking where they are today! Just being interested enough in what is being experienced and what has been learned, goes a long way towards facilitating improved transfer of skills back to the workplace. It’s also critical for line manager and direct report to have a conversation following the development programme. One reason for this is for the line manager to demonstrate their interest in what learning has been achieved. Another reason which will impact on business performance, is how the learning can be transferred to the workplace and what difference will it make. It’s at this stage that the personal development objectives for attending the programme can be reviewed to give some indication on whether the investment has been worthwhile.

3. Blend learning methods

Much has been written about people’s preferred learning styles and the benefit of designing a learning intervention that covers the range of learning preferences. The biggest challenge with leadership development is providing a learning experience that enables development to take place, whilst also guaranteeing that behaviour will change in the workplace also. Using a blended approach to programme design helps to improve the implementation of new skills. Many programmes still seem to rely heavily on the traditional workshop approach – sometimes with the advantage of a work-based project too. Stephen Covey said, all of us have within us the means for greatness*. To tap into it is a matter of finding the right balance of four human attributes, talent, need, conscience and passion. Our belief is that taking a blended learning approach is the conduit for releasing people’s potential, by offering a range of tools and techniques which appeal and stimulate different people for different purposes.

4. Learn from real-life data and examples

Delegates need to be able to relate what they are learning to themselves and their situation. Learning programmes that are too theoretical with little relevance to the leader’s own workplace, run the risk of falling into the ‘interesting, but of little practical use’ category of training course failures. In designing the learning programme, the trainer needs to come up with opportunities to apply the learning, monitor the effect, evaluate the result and draw conclusions. Working collaboratively on a work-based project as part of the leadership programme is one way of achieving this. Involvement in Action Learning with other delegates on the programme is another.

5. Keep programme materials relevant and useful

For lots of reasons!
How many course manuals find their way onto delegates shelves to gather dust? It’s not a lack of interest on behalf of the delegate, but more the opportunity to read through chapters of theory which may be difficult to immediately relate to the role of the leader.
Of course, printed materials are included in a blended learning programme – they are however, only one of the learning tools applied. They will also have a practical application in providing case studies from other businesses and sectors or directly related the delegates own organisation.
Pages of text is unlikely to inspire a busy leader who is taking time out to find quick and easily transferable ways of making a difference in what they do themselves and for others.
So, keep the paperwork to a minimum – delegates want to be active and engaged intellectually, emotionally and physically – when all this happens so will learning.

Taken from ’10 ways to avoid failing with leadership development’
by Lise Lewis, Bluesky International and Miranda Jenkins, Skills to Go

*Reference: The 8th Habit, Covey, S.R. Stephen R Covey(2004) Simon and Schuster UK Ltd London.