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4 Ways to Improve Leadership Development Learning

Lessons from talking to 53 sales managers

In 2018, I was asked to redesign a new executive training program. The program included seven sessions with eight hours of training and a noon closing session. It was a typical design to use Instructor-led training (ILT), with hours of PowerPoint presentations on performance management, coaching, strategic thinking and related topics. The only interactive exercises were group discussions of the issues raised in the presentations.

If this program sounds boring and ineffective, it’s because it was. In fact, on my first day as a program manager I had a meeting with a business unit that refused to send its executives for training for a future supervisor until we made significant changes.

The pressure was on.

My first act was attending every training in the first four months of 2018. I didn’t change anything because I wanted to experience all aspects of the training from the participants ’perspective. I sat in each class and took extensive notes on presentations, presenters and group exercises. Because, like change management the literature will tell you that making changes before you realize that your situation may turn on you.

I reviewed the literature on leadership development and consulted with several experts. I even earned a training industry Leading Leadership Development Certificate. Based on my research, I have introduced four improvements to the new executive training program:

1. More interaction

I halved the hours devoted to PowerPoint presentations, and introduced more interactive classes in the classroom. Students watched the presentation every 50 minutes and then had 50 or more minutes of interactive exercises such as group discussions and table debates. My favorite pastime was the wall quotes guide. Our facilitator posted inspirational guide quotes throughout the room and at certain points during the training encouraged students to walk around the room to read excerpts. The students then stood by their favorite quote and explained to the rest of the class why it was their favorite.

2. Invite a special guest

I also asked the awarded supervisor to make a special class presentation. The organization had an annual award for best leader, and I invited the winners to speak in front of the class to discuss the lessons they received as a leader. Students often said that meeting with successful executives was a hallmark of the curriculum.

3. Include real case studies

Each session of the course included a two-page case study based on the topic of the day. Students read a case study before coming to class and then spent an hour and a half discussing possible solutions. This approach is a great way to demonstrate how to apply theory to a real problem of supervision.

4. Rearrange the themes to lean on each other

Finally, I changed the learning topics to make them more effective. For example, I moved the communication unit in front of the coaching and mentoring unit, so managers learned the necessary communication skills before learning to use them in coaching and mentoring. I also combined emotional intelligence learning from performance management unit so executives can have more productive discussions with employees. To further develop leadership skills, the facilitators emphasized how all supervision skills work together.

I received many anecdotal reports that the new executives and their supervisors were pleased with the restructuring of the course. I picked up the numbers and found a significant level of satisfaction in the course assessments:

    • “The information in this course was relevant and applicable to my work”: an increase of 51%.
    • “The link between course content and [work] the environment was clear ”: growth of 51%.
    • “The knowledge and experience shared by the instructor improved my learning experience”: an increase of 41%.
    • “I was given ample opportunities to take part in this course”: a 35% increase.
    • “Materials helped me learn”: growth of 46%.
    • “My knowledge and skills have increased as a result of this course”: a 50% increase.
    • “I plan to apply the knowledge and skills gained in this course”: an increase of 53%.

The most personal result of the reorganization of the course was that I was recognized by Training Magazine as one of the 25 “New Leaders of Training 2019”. Leadership development is a vital necessity for organizations, especially now, because of the problems associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully my experience will help you improve your own leadership training programs.

Editor’s note: don’t miss ours Infographics on the current development of leadershipwho shares thoughts from leaders like this one.

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