Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Rule of Thumb for Leadership Development

How committed to that leadership development program you signed up for (or were nominated for) are you?

Better yet, what does committed mean to you?
  • I will try to attend the whole class except for that phone call I need to take and checking e-mails during the program.
  • I will put my out of office on for the time of the program and attend the whole session.  
  • I will do all the pre-work assigned.
  • I will make notes and incorporate something from the program afterwards.
  • I will work for at least six months to integrate the concepts, reflect on application "experiments," and revise my process.
In a world where training professionals are constantly being able to state the return on investment for leadership training, the dirty little secret is that there is often very little return because the participants are not committed to the program.  Honestly, if you are not spending 7-10 hours working with the new concepts outside of the classroom for every hour you are inside the classroom you are probably not getting the most out of the program.  

I can hear you now, my boss just signed me up for a four week residential program, you really expect me to put in a year's worth of time on that?  Here are the cold, hard facts.  If you estimate 50 hours a week in class for four weeks, you have 200 hours of class time which roughly translates to 1400 to 2000 hours of concentrated reflection/application time.  Your employer is probably spending in excess of $25,000 for you to attend that program.  If you go to the program and then don't incorporate anything that was a very expensive program with very little return on investment to your employer.  If you go to that program and spend the next year working with the concepts you learned, chances are good that you will show significant return on investment for your employer.  

But aren't they supposed to teach me everything I need to know?  Leadership development is not like learning how to turn on a new appliance (here is the remote, here is the power button, go forth and be entertained!).  It is not like accounting (if this column doesn't match this column you did something wrong, go find it and fix it).  And it is not like learning biology (the hip bone is connected to the...okay, I can never remember the way that song goes, but you know where I am going with this).  

Leadership development is learning new ways to approach situations that have been occurring since the dawn of time and will continue to occur long after we're gone.  The reason there are so many theories and methods is because human beings are different.  The leaders are different so the leader has to find something that works for him or her (so the resulting actions are authentic) and the people they lead are different so the leader then has to find something that works for each person he or she leads (so the resulting actions are engaging).  The combination of the two is the holy grail for leaders.  And just as soon as you figure that out, a new person or challenge comes along to send you back to the drawing board.  Thus, leadership development is a lifetime pursuit.  

Yeah, right, whatever you say.  My employer will never let me take a year sabbatical to "practice" after this course, you are crazy.  And that is where theory and reality meet.  Reflection and application of learning is not done in a vacuum (or on sabbatical) it is done in your office, with your co-workers, on a daily basis.  Did you try to incorporate that time management principle and your boss gave you that "I don't care what you learned in class about priorities, I want this today" look?  That is when you reflect on how you tried to incorporate the principle, what happened, what you can tweak and try next time, what happened, etc.  

Here are a few quick tips to help you really apply what you learn in your leadership development program.  If you do it all, you will go a long way to hitting that 1:7 - 1:10 ratio of in-class and outside application and reflection time.  

  1. Keep a reflective journal for every program you attend or leadership book you read.  
  2. Keep your class/reading notes in it and follow with your experiments and observations.  
  3. Find the name of a classmate (or get a co-worker to read through the book with you) and meet regularly (every 2-4 weeks) to talk about what is working and what isn't.
  4. Teach small portions of what you are working on to co-workers, employees, and friends.  This helps increase your understanding and helps develop a common language around the principles.
  5. Brainstorm possible applications of a concept or principle for at least 30 minutes (no judgement). Use that list to trigger new ideas when you are tweaking an application.
  6. Ask employees, co-workers, and supervisors for feedback on your efforts and write about what they said that surprised you, encouraged you, or sent you back to the drawing board.
  7. Compare the concepts from this program to concepts from other programs you have attended.  Are there situations where one will work better than another?  How will you know what "tool" from your leadership toolbox to use in a given situation?
And for during class?  Arrive on time, plan to stay until the end, and check e-mails and calls on breaks.  (Don't be like a recent participant I had who came up to me during lunch and said can you go over this piece with me?  I was sending an e-mail at the time and missed it but I am really interested in it.)  

How many programs should you attend?  This depends greatly on the way you learn.  I recommend putting together a multi-faceted plan that involves 1-2 in-class programs, 2 books (don't forget audio books), 5-6 relevant journals/magazines/blogs/podcasts/TedTalks/etc, and a lot of reflection (individual, with a partner, or in a group).  

What are your thoughts?  How do you apply and incorporate the things you learn?  What are you using today from the last class you took or book you read?  What about the first class you took or book you read?