Modern workplaces are very different from the offices of yesteryear. Organizations are being faced with increasingly globalized markets and also are being challenged to have multiple business units and functions effectively coordinate across organizational boundaries. This modern work setting requires leaders who have a diverse set of skills to effectively manage their teams for strong individual and collaborative performance.

However, many leaders struggle to lead their teams to meet even basic performance goals—despite having attended specialized leadership development courses. The problem, as highlighted through research cited by the Harvard Business Review, is that: “Our primary method of developing leaders is antithetical to the type of leadership we need… The qualities that leaders in today’s world need are intuitive, dynamic, collaborative, and grounded in here-and-now emotional intelligence.”

In other words, most “leadership development” doesn’t do enough to hone the skills that modern leaders need to inspire their teams to excellence. Instead of producing effective leaders for modern workplaces, these programs fail to instill developing leaders with the skills and attitudes they need to drive success.

Knowing what’s missing from your organization’s leadership development program is the first step to creating more effective leaders that can produce better results with consistency. Three things that organizations need to have in their leadership development program (but often lack) include:

1: Experience-Based (Experiential) Learning

One issue that many development programs have run afoul of is that the training environment and resources used aren’t applicable to the leader’s actual working environment. Many of these programs use canned, generally-applicable lessons that simply don’t activate the learner’s mind in the same way that a real-world situation would.

Experiential learning, or the practice of “learning by doing,” is designed to take advantage of the human brain’s tendency to better remember and understand new concepts/information following active participation in a task.

If the learning activity closely resembles the real-world conditions the learner will be exposed to then lessons can benefit from the phenomenon known as “state-dependent memory.” As noted in Core Psychiatry (third edition), the “retrieval of information is generally better given similar rather than different contextual cues.”

By having leaders participate in activities that directly relate to the real-world situations they will encounter in their day-to-day work, it is possible to improve their engagement, their retention of information and to show them how to apply lessons to everyday situations.

Experiential learning can be further reinforced post-training with on-the-job assignments such as job rotation. This helps to expose leaders to a wider variety of situations and responsibilities, helping them be better-prepared for leading teams consisting of personnel from different business units.

2: Buy-In from Top-Level Leaders Who Also Model Effective Leadership

In another HBR article on why leadership training fails, the author points out a common problem with leadership training:

“[Although] one program had succeeded in changing frontline supervisors’ attitudes about how they should manage, a follow-up study revealed that most supervisors had then regressed to their pre-training views. The only exceptions were those whose bosses practiced and believed in the new leadership style the program was designed to teach.”

Basically, the team leaders and team members would adopt the practices covered in a leadership development training program for a little while, then backslide into old habits. However, those individuals who saw that higher-level leaders also used the skills and concepts covered in the training program did not fall back into their old habits.

So, any leadership development program intended to have long-term benefits needs buy-in and support from the top-level leaders in the organization. By modeling the leadership styles emphasized in training, they can provide a real-world example of how those lessons can be applied in the workplace and set the expectation that these skills and behaviors should be used in the workplace.

Beyond modeling behaviors, bosses who use the behaviors and lessons covered in the training can also provide feedback and coaching to help developing leaders internalize the skills and make the transition to using them on the job.

3: Faculty with a Variety of Skills, Viewpoints, and Experiences

The faculty facilitating the training program need to have a variety of perspectives and skills to provide flexible and holistic leadership development. As the HBR article on “why leadership development isn’t developing leaders” states:

“We needed a faculty group with egos not wedded to any particular leadership methodology or school of thinking and who could work skillfully with live group dynamics, creating psychological safety in the room for participants to take personal risks and push cultural boundaries… We needed to be able to work with a continually changing curriculum design, and with the group projecting their discomfort with the wider change—and how it was being experienced in the program—onto the faculty.”

Having a development program with trainers who possess a wide variety of skills, viewpoints, and experiences helps to make the program more flexible and responsive.

The trainer’s ability to create an environment where learners are involved in guiding the discussions and can share their own best practices gained from practical experience plays a major role in the employee’s engagement. By making the focus on turning everyone into a “teacher,” learners will have more investment in—and thus engagement with—lesson content than they would in a lecture by an “expert.”

Developing leaders in your organization is a crucial part of ensuring continued success. Having strong leaders who can motivate their teams can improve a range of key performance metrics including productivity, profitability, and employee retention.

Does your organization’s leadership development program have everything it needs to operate at peak efficiency and effectiveness? Discover more about how you can improve your training and development programs by contacting OnPoint Consulting today!