Chances are, no matter when you read this thousands of managers are gathered, right now, in hotel meeting rooms around the world participating in “leadership development.”
They are dutifully learning about having a vision, setting priorities, making ethical decisions, coaching not directing their colleagues, and all the rest of the clichéd canon. But will any of that expensive instruction work?
Will leadership development affect the behavior of the seminar participants back on the job?
To a great extent, the answer to that important question depends on the approach to leadership development.
The Learning Process: Many Steps to Mastery
Consider the following illustration of how we learn to change our actions based on exposure to new information.
Leading is a series of actions in relationship to others. It is a complex, fluid dynamic that is much process as knowledge and skill. And even the knowledge and skill components of leading require significant honing over time for one to become proficient.
A rough analog to learning how to lead others by going to a seminar: Imagine trying to learn one of the martial arts by sitting in a classroom listening to a ‘motivational speaker’ on the warrior mindset.
Leadership Seminars: Great Expectations
Leadership seminars can be useful for stimulating interest in leading more effectively, in providing one with ideas and specific techniques about how to proceed back on the job. But because leadership training often is treated as a one-time event, it is too often burdened by attempting to present more information in a short period of time than anyone could possibly absorb much less retain, integrate, or master.
In other words, a lot of the material presented in leadership seminars might as well not have been presented because it is not even going to register with the under-slept, over-stimulated attendees much less change any of their actions back on the job.
After the Leadership Seminar
Perhaps more insidious, whatever new leadership information does stick to an eager student of it may be met with opposition back at the workplace when the leader tries applying the leadership techniques she’s learned. After all, while the newly inspired leader may have changed, the environment hasn’t.
If this leader’s boss hasn’t gone through the same training, if the organization isn’t reinforcing the principles taught in the seminar, and isn’t directly supporting the newly inspired leader’s new actions, and isn’t providing coaching to extend and help the leader apply the leadership seminar’s general information to the leader’s specific on-the-job challenges, then all that anticipation of, and well-meaning commitment to becoming a better leader may seem rather hollow. And the hopeful leader’s attempts to lead better may well be short lived as those hopes are dahed in quiet if not bitter frustration.
Leadership development cannot be a one-off seminar. It isn’t handing someone a computerized “360” report with a suggestion that they do better. Developing the acumen of a leader is a career-long undertaking. It is an intentional activity that is aided by opportunities to grow on the job, paired with receiving meaningful, timely feedback from an interested supervisor; getting helpful outside perspective from a qualified executive coach; and encouraging growth through, yes, continuing education paired with honest self-evaluation and candid input from the leader’s constituents.