I can’t turn around without stubbing my toe on a new leadership training program. The proliferation of such programs is an acknowledgment by the training industry of the importance leaders plays in an organization’s success. Why, then, would I suggest you forgo the latest training?

Leadership is not developed as a subject as you’d learn accounting, marketing, or supply chain management. Instead, I encourage you to challenge your learning and development professionals to incorporate leadership training across the whole program.

Teach leadership like you’d teach critical thinking. Embed it in every learning opportunity.

Leadership training programs have changed considerably over the last ten years. This article from Forbes featuring an interview with Ray Carvey, Executive Vice President of Corporate Learning at Harvard Business Publishing, summarizes the transformation of leadership training and lays out the elements of effective training in the future.

In light of scandals involving organizational leaders in every industry, there is no more important time to get leadership development right.

Unfortunately, the practice of teaching and coaching for leadership doesn’t keep up with the research.

According to the Harvard Business Review, research indicates:

  • 30%–60% of leaders act destructively, with an estimated cost of $1–$2.7 million for each failed senior manager
  • Leaders should drive employee engagement, yet only 30% of employees are engaged, costing the U.S. economy $550 billion a year in productivity loss.
  • It is quite common for people to believe that leadership is largely dependent on the situation, that it’s hard to predict whether someone will be a good (or bad) leader.
  • There are factors in both nature and environment that affect, and can predict, the probability that someone will be an effective leader.
    (Hbr.org, What Science Tells Us About Leadership Potential)

Let’s start with personality. According to the HBR article, it’s a short list of qualities. People who are more adjusted, sociable, ambitious, and curious are most likely to become leaders.

Before I go on to demonstrate how leadership can be integrated into other topics, such as orientations, continuing education, supervisory development programs, and more, let’s look at how the research defines leadership.

The key qualities of effective leadership outlined in the HBR article summarizing research includes:

  • Leading teams that outperform other teams.
  • Fair and just culture on their teams.
  • High levels of emotional intelligence.
  • Creating clear rules for interaction that affect morale and productivity.

Now that we’ve explored the research let’s bridge the gap with practice. What does it look like when learning designers incorporate leadership across the program?

1. Leading teams that get results
Instead of high ropes courses or general leadership training, schedule or develop learning opportunities that build high-performing teams over the course of multiple sessions. One example is our Team Cohesion training. We require our clients to contract at least two consecutive topics. It’s not to make more money; in fact, we’re priced to encourage multiple modules. Our requirement is because we know it’s essential to build a team over time and with a foundation for growth. Leadership training falls naturally within the topic of building teams.

2. Fair and just culture
How are your leaders, and their employees, working with teams with multiple cultures? By scheduling training on Cultural Competence, leaders, and their teams can begin to explore the ethical and business considerations of working in a diverse workplace.

Another idea is to incorporate an employee’s full life-cycle in training activities. Using case studies or video scenarios in learning can uncover strengths or issues on the team. An example is to create a scenario where an employee quits through social media. Create a discussion about the impact on the people who remain. Ask participants to share different perspectives. All of these activities help develop leadership qualities.

3. High levels of emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is often touted as more important than IQ in leadership ability. The list of leadership qualities uncovered in research certainly backs the claim. The first step in developing emotional intelligence is to cultivate self-awareness.

When leaders take on the titles of leadership, power balances shift. New leaders could take a simple assessment to gauge whether position power has corrupted their interactions with their team. The intent is to generate discussion in peer groups and develop an awareness of triggers for potentially destructive behavior.

4. Clear rules for interactionCreate clear rules for interaction
You know the old saying, “When you assume you make an a__ out of u and me.” As human beings, we can’t help but get used to our routine thought processes. It’s these habitual thoughts and responses that become assumptions. Leaders develop the habit of interrupting and examining their assumptions. Let’s take this example to learning and development.

An effective technique in learning design is action learning. As small groups work together to solve real-world problems, incorporate objectives that require rotating team leaders to get, and keep, their team aligned in expectations and processes. The only way to explicitly and implicitly guide the team’s culture is to examine assumptions along the way.

With these examples, I hope to have convinced you that you shouldn’t book that leadership training. ALL training can be leadership training.


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