Despite the trends, effective leadership development programs are still delivering measurable value. Leadership training is an essential part of developing successful, reliable, trusted leaders. Though in recent years, there has been a downward trend in companies that rely heavily on coaching to develop leaders, organizations that do invest in a culture of learning see the many benefits. Trainings can help leaders learn new skills, increase self-awareness, gain confidence, and develop a stronger understanding of their and others’ leadership styles. Leadership development programs have also shown to significantly increase employee engagement and retention, productivity, and profitability.
When it comes to leadership development, there are many different approaches organizations can take. Combining team training with applied learning in the workplace and executive coaching is one of the most effective ways to develop leaders, as well as increase the cohesiveness of teams, building individual hard/soft skills. However, if a culture of learning is not structured effectively, the investment might not pay off.
Successful companies use the following five components to make sure their leaders are committed, and training is effective:
1. Assess leader’s and team’s skillsets: It’s not a one size fits all approach. Company leaders, who successfully plan for pipeline learning over the talent lifecycle offer different learning opportunities, based on the various abilities of their team.
When training new leaders, start with the basics. Include topics like team building, communication, trust, and problem-solving. And, when training more advanced leaders, build upon their foundational knowledge. Hone-in on developing finesse characteristics that elevate top skills, like emotional intelligence, accountability, delegation, difficult communication, and insightful curiosity to understand what motivates others.
We have conducted thousands of behavioral assessments, especially the Harrison Assessment. It provides key insights into the paradoxical choices that leaders need to make daily and behaviors vital to building trust. When leaders and employees understand each other’s individual strengths and weaknesses, as well as how behavioral traits impact individuals and overall teams, they can make optimal decisions and consciously choose behaviors that enhance trust and credibility. Assessments like this are an exceptional tool that assess strengths and areas for development opportunities prior to personal coaching or development workshops.
2. Pick a time when everyone can participate: As many businesses naturally wind down during the summer, leaders have more time to focus on and think about working on their own development. At this time of year, managers and executives are less beset by one emergency after another, making summer a great time to schedule training because everyone can be present to participate. Don’t let the lull of the summer slow you or your business down; take advantage of the slower months to engage and accelerate your teams.
3. Plan content and scenarios for moments of insight and “Ahas”: Often leadership training is designed with competitive, problem-solving sessions that extend for two or more hours at a time. This results in stress and fatigue, creating neurotransmitters that disconnect from the brain’s executive function in the pre-frontal cortex. The outcome is less-than-optimal decision-making and learning that is stressful and not retained.
Research supports that insights (Ahas) produce the greatest learning moments and learning that is retained. For insights to occur, it’s important that the participants have frequent breaks, interactive games that are fun, and healthy food snacks to keep their glucose levels stable. The happy, relaxed, and engaged brain performs at its peak. To really solidify retention, during the training, create opportunities for the participant to apply their new knowledge.
4. Design exercises to strengthen collaboration and accountability: Collaboration is best practiced during skill or process-based modules working on small teams. Accountability is one of the most important components of leadership development. It is essential that each participant be accountable for staying present, actively participating, supporting the interactive learning of others, and following through on pre- and post-assignments in a timely manner. The most challenging part of accountability during a leadership development program is to practice intellectual humility by being open and receptive to new information, new ways of applying the knowledge they are learning, and possibilities for new or unexpected outcomes.
One of the best ways to help open leaders’ minds and emphasize collaboration and accountability is to make the training interactive, allowing for significant discussion and involvement among participants. Interaction increases engagement, learning retention, and allows leaders to practice “being the example” for others.
5. Define measurements for training success: Measuring the effectiveness of a training program gives valuable insights to an organization about training methods and whether employees are getting the most out of their education. Decide how to define a successful training program before launching. One often referenced model is Dr. Donald Kirkpatrick’s “Four Levels” for evaluating training programs.
- Level 1: Reaction is measured. Participant surveys and “happy sheets” are collected post-training.
- Level 2: Learning is measured. Assessments before and after the training are evaluated.
- Level 3: Behavior is measured. Managers observe and interview participant to assess change.
- Level 4: Results are measured. Company-wide trends are assessed, such as reduced costs, increased quality of work, increased employee retention, higher morale, etc.
Overall, key performance indicators (KPIs)are the best way to define and measure success. Evaluate how the employee’s responsibility and accountability increase in effectiveness, relative to the KPIs for their job. Notice the leadership skills taught that are now being demonstrated in your organization’s work environment. Keep key performance indicators for the class participants at the forefront of your mind when planning and evaluating your training.
Leadership development is important for any organization that wants to improve its performance and teamwork. Studies show that learning experiences that leaders crave the most are instructor-led trainings, professional coaching, and assessments to inform development. Interestingly, coaching from a current manager is at the bottom of the list because it’s so often done incorrectly. It is important to note that training programs must be more than individual, sporadic events. For real, sustained development to occur, strategically planned leadership training programs and repetition are key.
Remember, your company’s leaders are some of its most valuable assets. Therefore, it is essential to invest in them and make training and development part of the organization’s strategic plan. For leadership development programs to be most successful and provide the greatest return on investment (ROI), it is essential that learning is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.
LEADERSHIP TAKEAWAY: If you’re interested in learning more about leadership development and team building, contact Rainey Leadership Learning today. We specialize in helping business leaders create custom-tailored, brain-friendly, applied-learning programs that meet the organization’s unique needs.
Would you like to be a better leader? Contact us about leadership training that can advance your career and business.
Dr. Cheri Rainey is the CEO/Founder of Rainey Leadership Learning, partnering with leaders to support the entire employee life cycle.