Every work team has a leader. The leader is either informal by nature of his/her ability to persuade and influence, or formal by nature of his/her title. Many leaders fly by the seat of their pants and make decisions based on their experience without the benefit of any real training or mentoring. Of course, those who receive the right combination of experience, training, and mentoring can develop an outstanding set of leadership skills that they apply naturally to maximize their results and develop their teams to perform at their highest level. Here are some leadership training ideas to help make your leaders more effective.
Fundamentally, there are two broad types of training: Classroom sessions and experiential exercises. Both are important to consider and have a vote in shaping any training and development program but especially leadership.
The classroom setting provides a perfect and safe environment for people to learn new principles and skills. You deliver presentations to illustrate the leadership elements and communicate the expectations. We’ve all been in the classroom before, whether with 20 people during high school or 200 during a college lecture. Classroom training is a great way to communicate a lot of information to a large audience. The challenge is that for adults to learn any principles, they need to apply them with interactive exercises. For leadership principles, this means you have to get them to lead. Here are some classroom ideas:
- Prepare content and lead a group during your training session
- Create a case study where the participants are presented with a challenging situation where they need to describe their course of action based on what they know in the case
- Have the trainer pick out scenarios and engage the participants in lively discussions that begin with “what would you do if…”
- Create role play scenarios and have leaders demonstrate their role in front of the group
- Define teams for an exercise and see how they navigate the leadership dynamics of team behavior, then provide an opportunity for feedback and discussion
During my career, I’ve has the pleasure of going through some awesome experiential leadership courses. Some were dynamic classroom environments where I learned principles to help lead teams, employees, and even clients to achieve high levels of performance. Beyond these training sessions, I recall challenging yet fun experiential training.
One experiential event was a ropes course experience where we were outside in the woods to solve a variety of obstacles/challenges that, at first, seemed impossible. These included navigating over fallen logs and streams through thick brush and other obstacles that would have been difficult under normal circumstances, but we had to mange to solve them blindfolded. Other exercises involved challenges 30 feet in the air.
Another experiential event was where we loaded onto buses in the pouring rain to be dropped on a lakeside where we formed into teams, were handed a map of various islands and given instructions to collect hidden tokens and some points based on our time. And by the way, we had to inflate our own rafts. Points and tokens both mattered, and we were competitive. We were cold, wet, hungry, and all wanting to win.
These are just two examples of many situations where teams were thrown together and expected to achieve great challenges and compete to win. The key is great facilitation to be certain that the learning objectives are achieved. There are many insights and important lessons about leadership styles and preferences that can be observed I these situations that do not always become known in a classroom setting.
Here are some ideas for other experiential trainings
- Create situations with an objective, like safely crossing a river, or coming up with a new product design, but almost no structure or direction. Let them form their teams, see who engages as the leader, and how people play leadership and supporting roles differently toward achieving the objective.
- Create other situations as above, but assign people into roles. Think of Donald Trump’s reality TV program The Apprentice. Somebody is the designated leader for the challenge.
- Another variation of the above is to make team leadership assignments that reflect their actual job roles, like sales, operations, finance, etc. Or, have their assignments reflect the opposite of their actual jobs so they can gain new perspectives.
The situations you can put people into are endless. The important part of these trainings is to allocate tons of time in the agenda for sharing observations, debriefing, and capture insights that will enable the participants to carry this new knowledge and skill to the “real world”.
Coaches and Mentors
The best way to learn leadership is to be in a leadership role, with reasonability for a team and accountability for results. The issue with this approach, with or without lots of training exposure, is that your leader is really on their own to figure things out. This is where a coach or mentor comes into play.
A coach is an individual that is paid to give guidance and advice to the leader. A mentor is a person usually within the same company, who has excelled at the skill the leader is learning to apply. Both are important sounding bounds for advice and ideas, and both can provide feedback to help shape the leader’s style.
All Training Methods Have a Place
As you look to improve the leadership skills across you company, recognize that a mixture of all these methods is useful in different situations. Some people do better than others in the different training modes, so develop a multi-layered approach for your leadership training agenda.