Whether leadership development occurs at the executive level, the upper or mid-management level, or the project-team level, it is key to progress and progression at any company. This post identifies key shifts in the leadership development training paradigm based on opinion from experts at Forbes, Entrepreneur, and the CEO Institute. The strategies provide a more contemporary, holistic approach to traditional leadership instruction.
Good leaders are developed, not just trained
Numbers suggest the importance that companies attach to training staff for leadership roles. U.S. companies spend upwards of $14 billion a year on leadership development alone, and more than $170 billion overall on leadership education.
However, the traditional notion of how to develop leadership skills is changing, from one based on classroom instruction to one grounded in hands-on, mentored-based experience, an approach much of the literature on leadership is now embracing.
A “tale of the tape” shows the difference between the two paradigms:
|Training Paradigm||Development Paradigm|
|Method||Models and tools||Applied practice|
Passive classroom training doesn’t always enable trainees to translate models and tools into real-life situations. A development approach is active, shaped by experience – both personal and professional – in which experiences themselves are the teachers. That is to say, leadership is a matter of learning from failures and transferring successes to other contexts and scenarios. Only by replicating the situations in which leaders fall short or succeed will they be able to develop effective leadership skills.
Some key elements of the new leadership development paradigm
Several metrics describe effective leaders. They are honest, candid, and trustworthy, as well as compassionate, understanding, and flexible. They know how to set goals, establish priorities for achieving them, and keep their finger on the communal pulse to ensure progress towards those goals. They are communicators, motivators, and morale boosters, and they can leverage networks and employees to get jobs done.
By stepping beyond classroom boundaries, this new way of developing leadership in business and organizations exemplifies these metrics. It does so, however, not only based on hands-on, mentor-based experience but also on self-awareness exercises, sometimes dictating alone time for reflection and inner dialogue.
Redefining the mindset of leadership
Attitude reflects leadership. Today’s experts suggest that the first step in any development program is a mindset adjustment, away from demands and commands to listening and shepherding. The “controlling” mindset, in which leaders believe they are responsible for the direction and success of an organization, must give way to a recognition that many others also feel responsible for the organization. An all-hands approach is what helps make an organization successful.
To shift away from the controlling mindset, many individuals have to change the way they “receive” and react to external stimuli. In many cases that means overcoming fears. Today’s leaders aren’t afraid to listen to what those under them have to say, whether right or wrong, or whether the leaders agree or disagree. Leaders aren’t afraid of shifting directions when plans aren’t working, or accepting someone’s else notion of what’s right for a company. In fact, by embracing fears, they develop self-composure in the face of challenges, in turn becoming more confident, powerful, and persuasive. A plus-side result is greater trust among employees.
Becoming more visionary
Inspirational leaders are those who can develop a promising, realistic vision for the future, and project it with clarity to followers. Meeting that vision successfully depends not only on how followers will do their job, but with how much passion and desire the vision compels them to bring to their work. Today’s leader can harness energy and commitment by creating long-range plans with well-defined milestones and distinct paths, and with finish lines that are rewarding to all. The clarity of the vision is critical. If followers can visualize the dream, they will be inspired to make it reality.
Expanding the notion of communication
Communication is a fundamental ingredient of leadership. Today’s leaders know communication involves not only active listening, clear feedback and direction, and eye contact, but also more nuanced skills that impact their ability to garner the trust of followers to motivate them.
For instance, knowing how to read body language in the workplace is key to knowing how employees may be reacting internally to advice or feedback, signaling that perhaps a different track is required. Communication also means:
- Following words with action — doing what one says develops trust.
- Taking mental notes during conversations — distilling information, rather than reacting in response to each line, engenders more in-depth dialogue.
- Speaking only when fully knowledgeable — inserting unexplored opinions in conversations may risk credibility.
- Being concise and to the point — simplifying important messages helps listeners understand their core elements.
In addition, good leaders have a high degree of emotional intelligence (EI). Not only do they have a handle on their own emotions, and how their emotions impact those around them, but they can also judge what others are feeling. High EI enables leaders to deal with difficult employees in the workplace, maintaining control, and keeping dialogue and conversation calm and on track.
The new shift in leadership development is a promising way to create a progression of leaders for any company. Make sure these innovative strategies are part of all development programs.