No more executive day care!
What’s the problem with leadership development?
At every level in human society leaders matter – and developing the next generation of leaders is crucial to our ongoing success and prosperity. While it is true that some lucky few appear born to lead we know from both academic research and practical experience that almost everyone who leads can become better at it with well-targeted training and support. Little wonder then that businesses in particular invest heavily in leadership development. The $64,000 question, though, is what types of leadership development actually work? No one wants to invest large amounts of time and money into programs the end up being little more than “executive day care”.
The usual approaches to leadership development all have good points and bad points, for instance:
- Classroom training – a reasonably time-efficient way to “download” new information into the heads of your trainee leaders, however retention of the new information is often poor at best and in any case merely hearing new information is not the same thing as internalising it.
- Experiential training (i.e. practical experiences, either simulated or in the “real world”) – a more effective way to embed new learnings and behaviours but often expensive at scale.
- Mentoring – can be a great way to support developing leaders over time, and to transfer deep knowledge within an organisation. However the quality of the experience for the trainee can vary greatly unless the mentoring program is carefully designed and monitored.
Crucially there is one other huge problem inherent to all of these techniques – how can you verify that what you are doing is working? How can you know with any certainty that your leaders are really developing in any meaningful and lasting sense?
The AltusQ Approach
AltusQ was recently awarded a European Quality Award by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council for its flagship “Foundation Level Coaching Skills” program. While this program, as the name suggests, focusses on imparting foundational coaching skills to leaders the program’s design principles are a model for all forms of leadership training.
The program borrows and blends the best features of the training approaches outlined above. Key aspects of the program design include:
- Classroom training up-front to kick-start new learnings
- Mandatory fieldwork starting with observing expert practitioners and them moving on to co-facilitated and finally solo activities
- Frequent interaction throughout the program with a skilled supervisor/mentor to explore and address individual strengths and weaknesses
- A structured program delivered via a dedicated online platform that guides both trainee and supervisor through each predefined milestone
- A focus on frequent self-reflective practice by the trainee, documented and shared with the supervisor/mentor to facilitate timely achievement, and deep understanding, of the required competencies
- Program transparency – progress and achievement can be audited by administrators at a fine level of detail both during the program and upon program completion.
The process the trainee and their supervisor/mentor move though creates an audit trail that allows us to trace the trainee’s journey and to identify when and how the trainee is judged as having achieved each of the required competencies. When a trainee has completed our program we can not only say “we have taught the trainee Skill X”, we can say “we know that the trainee can competently apply Skill X in the real world” – and we can point to documented reasons for our confidence. All via a process so thoroughly thought-out and automated that it can scale up to handle large student cohorts at a manageable cost.
This level of personalised attention to detail takes real effort to achieve. This is a genuinely “world’s best practice” form of training – but unless you’re happy to pay for more “executive day care” why would you settle for anything less?