Leadership covers a vast range of specific skill-sets, almost all of which come under the heading of what trainers call “far transfer training.” That means that you have to go all the way back and use them on the job to learn them completely. With that in mind, here are my recommendations for choosing a good program for you.
Specific Skill Areas
Forget about those general leadership workshops that cover everything. Instead, pick a program that will develop a specific skill or set of skills that you need. Here are some general skill areas.
- The transition to leadership.
- Dealing with your boss.
- Understanding people.
- Managing performance.
Make sure you pick a workshop that will let you practice skills the way you’ll use them on the job. Ropes courses, cooking, and other novelty programs may be fun but they don’t leave you with much you can use when you get back to work.
When you research potential workshops, write out your own statement of what you’ll learn from each workshop you’re considering. That way you can determine if there will be specific and helpful learning and if the learning will help you achieve your personal development goals.
A good workshop should have conceptual learning, assessment, and role practice in a specific skill area. You’ll learn the most at courses where you learn through exercises, rather than through lectures.
For example, in many leadership workshops, the instructor will tell you what the traits of a great leader are. In my workshops and many others, you’d work with others in the class to develop a list of such traits. Then the instructor might help you understand how your list compares to the results of research studies.
Sometimes there’s no alternative to some form of a lecture to get information from the instructor’s head to your own. When that’s the case, ask how many concrete examples will be used. As human beings, we’re wired to learn best from concrete examples.
Don’t be shy about finding out in advance how instruction is handled. It can be the difference between a workshop that helps you develop and one that’s a waste of time and money.
A good program will provide you with something you can use after you get back to work. This is important because you’ll never remember everything you learned at the training program.
There should be some kind of follow-up to help you apply what you’ve learned when you’re back on the job and then improve your ability over time. That may involve evaluation by an expert or by your peers, or perhaps even your subordinates.
Reminders can be helpful, too. They can be as simple as an outline of what to do or a checklist. Or as elaborate as a series of computer-based job aids.
You can make up your own job aids to help you. Try putting key points or lists of the steps in a process on individual index cards and then carrying those cards with you. Making up the cards is a good review and the cards can be really helpful when you don’t have your full notes handy.
Critique Your Own Performance
No matter how good the program is, it’s up to you to do your own follow-up and take charge of your own development. I suggest to trainees of mine that every time they apply what they’ve learned in the program, they answer the following questions in writing.
- What was the situation?
- What did I do and why?
- How did I do it?
- What happened?
- How will I do things differently next time?
The “writing” doesn’t have to be much, just enough to provide thought discipline. You’ll be amazed at how much this simple practice can increase your learning.
Most leadership training will be more effective if you have a mentor or peer to discuss things with when you get back on the job. Plan to do that.
Well-chosen and effective leadership training can help you become the leader you want to be. Poorly chosen or ineffective training is a waste of time and money. It’s your responsibility to choose the leadership training programs that meet your needs.