Let's make leadership development journeys work!

Reuben Thomas
2 mins
April 24, 2021

The way businesses and work has been organized has changed drastically in the last 10-20 years. Companies are more global than ever. Large parts of the workforce are now virtual, even more so since the lock downs have come into effect due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Internet and tech-based solutions not only enable specific parts of one’s work life like cloud storage and the one-off video call, but for many is the only medium of work (creating outputs, communication, collaboration - everything). Thus, it has become imperative to invest in and enable development for employees at all levels of the organization, to prepare them for the ever-changing business imperatives.

Learning and Development space has adapted to these changes over the years - from being a function that designed and managed the organization’s learning requirements to transferring ownership of learning into the hands of the employees. Some of the solutions adopted have been Learning Management Systems, Learning Experience Platforms, Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) and similar tech-based solutions. This has enabled skilling at scale and has been a major shift from the L&D lead classroom training programs.

Leadership Development Offerings largely are either Programs delivered in the space of a few days or Journeys spread over months. The shorter Leadership Development offerings largely consist of Classroom Programs by premier B-Schools, standalone sessions over a few days, conferences and offsites, usually on specific leadership ( for example: Transformational Leadership, Influencing) or functional topics (say Design Thinking, Leadership in a data-driven world).  

Longer Leadership Development Journeys last usually for 6 months to a year. They include a slew of coaching / mentoring sessions, classroom sessions and workshops to help leaders achieve multiple development or performance objectives which enable them to perform better in their current (or future) roles.

Which one works best?

The shorter Leadership Development offerings have withstood the test of time because they do have certain advantages to their credit. For starters – they are scalable, since they follow a repeatable template of facilitation and content. This also makes it much more easily manageable and less expensive than custom Leadership Development Journeys for organizations that want to avail specific interventions for their leaders. The in-person versions of many such programs also provide the benefits of networking opportunities. Many leaders, too, find the development journey over months as cumbersome.

Yet, there is a strong case for why Leadership Development Journeys are needed to enable sustained performance outcomes, over shorter Leadership Development Programs:

1. Context translation

Leader’s face a myriad of challenges unique to their organizational contexts. Most templatized Leadership Development Programs make it difficult for the leaders who participate in these programs to translate their learnings into their performance context.

2. Reliance on Delivery Agents of the Programs

In most Leadership Development Programs, leaders are completely dependent on facilitators,coaches and program managers, attending and working through workshops and coaching sessions as per a master schedule. This leads to a lot of “in the moment” problems faced by the leaders being the target of the interventions,which leads to larger development and performance goals to take a backseat.

3. Impact on development and performance goals

Shorter Programs are scalable since they follow a repeatable template of facilitation and content. However, research shows that in order to learn more quickly and remember better, spacing learning over time is a solution.

How can we make Leadership Development journeys work?

Given the cumbersome and expensive nature of Leadership Development Journeys, there is a need to do things differently, for leaders to make the most of such interventions.

Taking a leaf out of what has worked in the Learning and Development space, a potential solution is to give more agency to the Leaders who participant in these programs:

1. Tech-based content solutions like Learning Management Systems, Learning Experience Platforms and MOOCs can be augmented to the traditional methods in Leadership Development such as Coaching, Action Learning Exercises and Classroom Programs by reputed universities, to help users gain control on what the can learn on an ongoing basis.

2. Performance shift requires behavioral pattern work at the ground level barring which successful transformation cannot happen. Leadership Programs can be designed to allow the Leaders to learn, contextualize and apply in their performance contexts.

3. Designing Journeys as shorter sprints, allows the repetition of deliberate practice to evolve, while achieving specific business outcomes. This helps leaders themselves becomes their own development coach.

By doing the above, Leadership Development Journeys can transfer ownership of skill building and practice into the hands of the participants.This move from events scheduled as a part of the journey to the cohort’s convenience by a Program Management Team, will give the leader the ability to learn and test their skills.