Leadership development is an industry. A big industry! And yet I don’t know of a country in which it is regulated (if I am wrong, contact me and I will correct that statement). So, you pay your money and you take your chances.
Having said all of that, leadership development is big because it is important and at least some of it works. I know!
Here I will unravel some of the alternatives and the issues relating to the development of leaders, and help you find your way through. I will present you with a number of choices, in the hope that you might be able to decide which approach is good for you.
First, a health warning. Leadership development covers a range of learning methods, the best of which are designed to help you to build on the leadership skills qualities that you already possess.
If you hear of “Leadership Training” it might just be a very basic, taught programme that doesn’t take account of your existing strengths. Find out whether they include any form of self or peer assessment.
Group or individual development
A whole range of leadership development activities use group learning techniques. These include training courses, degree programmes, virtual classrooms, seminars, workshops, etc.
These are great if you enjoy learning in a group – if you feel comfortable contributing and learning from others’ experiences. As leadership involves other people, it is difficult to develop your leadership confidence if you don’t involve others at some point in your learning. The best group based programmes use group exercises and give you opportunities to practice leadership skills. They also have plenty of chance to give and receive feedback.
Individual development covers one-to-one coaching and self-development activities (eg, reading, workbooks, e-learning).
E-learning has come a long way in the last few years and there are some great materials around. Similarly, there are some very good e-books on the market.
These techniques are very focused on you and your needs and they progress at your own pace. But self-study alone can not provide you with the practice and feedback that you might need to build your leadership confidence.
My recommendation? Find a leadership development programme that offers elements of both group and individual learning. Perhaps some workshops or course modules with self-study and one-to-one coaching built in or with coaching as an add-on. But choose elements that are focused on your needs rather than a sheep dip, or one size fits all, approach.
Academic or vocational
Academic programmes are those that are based upon the learning of theory, or upon new research that extends the body of knowledge. They are mainly cognitive or cerebral (to do with the head) and lead to academic qualifications, such as university degrees.
Vocational programmes are more practical in their nature and are concerned with the application of learning to real situations. They tend to focus on skills and less on theory, although they can also lead to vocational qualifications.
Actually, the “or” in the title is not clear cut. Some university degrees are vocational in nature. In the world of management and leadership, the Master of Business Administration degree (MBA) is an obvious example. However, there will still be a large amount of academic / intellectual / theory in any degree programme.
Many organisations run vocational leadership programmes, or corporate leadership training scheme, for their leaders. Some also offer routes to academic programmes for those who do well on vocational ones.
My recommendation? Think carefully about what you want and how you learn best. If you want to develop practical skills – opt for a vocational programme. If you want to understand the theoretical basis of leadership first, look for a suitable academic course of study.
Bespoke or open programmes
A bespoke leadership development programme is one that is designed and developed around the identified learning needs of the employing organisation and the participants. They tend to be run “in-company”.
An open programme sells places to participants from different employers. You can find yourself alongside people from many different contexts. Open programmes are sometimes run “in-company” – but sometimes with little or no modification beforehand.
If it is just you wanting to learn on a group based programme, you will probably have to find an open programme. Unless of course your powers of persuasion as such that you can get your employer to commission a bespoke programme.
Open programmes can have two key advantages. They offer the chance to learn from people from other organisations, to benchmark yourself and to look beyond the familiar. They are also relatively anonymous! You can make your mistakes away from your friends and colleagues.
But some open programmes are not always very sharply focussed. And unless they are chosen around your own needs, they can be frustrating. This is were “bespoke is best” – providing of course that the trainer is any good. A good bespoke programme can offer direct, relevant and directly transferable learning that you can take straight back to work.
My recommendation? Go for bespoke if it is available. If not, ask the providers of the open programme about the programme objectives and compare these with what you wish to learn. Then ask them what steps they will take to identify and address your individual learning needs. If you are happy with the answers, then ask if they will refer you to a past participant who can tell you about their experiences.
Self-development is what you are doing now. Taking responsibility for your own learning and development and showing the initiative to learn under your own resources.
Self-development is an important companion to formal programmes offered by others. When I run leadership programmes and workshops myself I can always tell those participants who have the “get up and go” to learn for themselves. They are hungry and eager to learn.
But self-development is often not enough on its own. At the very least find a learning buddy (someone in your own situation who you can learn with), a leadership coach (someone who can guide you through the learning process and offer feedback and help) or a mentor (a wise and more experienced leader who you can turn to when you require help, guidance or feedback).
I said at the start – leadership development is not regulated. Then how do you know that a provider is reputable and can deliver what you want?
Ask them about other programmes they have delivered, and what results have followed from them. Ask for client testimonials and whether you can speak with anyone who has been on their programmes. Ask to speak with the person – or people – who will actually run the programmes. And ask them about their formal qualifications, as well as their practical experience, in leadership and in learning & development.
Ultimately you have to decide whether you can work with this person. Are they a leader themselves, and an admirable role model? Would you follow them?
Tony Harvey is an award winning leadership consultant, trainer, facilitator and coach. He founded THR consulting ( http://www.THRconsulting.com ) in 1996, from which he has worked with leading organisations in the private, public and voluntary sectors, offering bespoke leadership development programmes, board level facilitation and executive coaching.
Tony’s work has been published in books and articles in the UK and USA over the last ten years. He has now set up learn-to-be-a-leader.com ( [http://www.learn-to-be-a-leader.com] ) to help individuals, who are not employed by THR’s corporate clients, learn to lead others.
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