Leadership Development Experiences for Today’s Environment

By March 25, 2021Leadership

We’re hearing two resounding themes when we speak with firm and organizational leaders about leadership development: 

1 – “Our leaders need new skills to help manage teams in an environment that is completely different than 2 years ago.”

 2 – “We aren’t sure what our leadership development experiences should look like today. Can we do something meaningful while remote?”

Executives, mid-level managers, and front-line leaders across all of the industries we are working with (professional services, medical, corporate, nonprofit, etc) are experimenting with new ways to grow skills and competencies. Here’s what we’re finding successful, as we re-engineer leadership development experiences and programs.

1.   Teach the skills and competencies needed today

Even before the pandemic, we were seeing greater increases in burnout, a faster pace of change, a greater emphasis on diversity equity and inclusion, and a focus on growing culture. The skills that we’ve been teaching regularly over the past year are Empathy, Being Values-Driven, Flexibility, Experimentation, and Creativity. These skills are helping leaders connect with their people in meaningful ways (remotely and in-person), navigate uncertainty and change, and innovate with their teams.  You can read more about each of these here.

2.   Build flexibility into the program to accommodate the issues leaders face in real-time

In the past, we would build leadership programs for cohorts and design every minute of the program to ensure some specific learning objectives were met. So, if cohorts were meeting monthly over 2-6 months, we would have no room to adjust the content to align with challenges that they might be facing at that time. With the pace of change and shifting of learning needs on a week-to-week basis, we’re creating more space to add in topics and content as we go. 

For example, in a cohort program, we facilitate for leaders in federal government agencies, we pay attention to their learning questions throughout the program. We heard about issues around employee burnout in the first couple of sessions. So, in the third, we adjusted the focus to center around empathy and listening as a tool to approach burnout. We also identified other resources for the cohort to explore on their own outside of the live session time.

3.   Integrate coaching to provide personalized support and teaching

Coaching can be a way for more focused self-discovery and guided reflection to ensure the learning sticks, whether that be individual or small team coaching. We always believe that pairing coaching opportunities with a cohort program are the most powerful way to combine individual and peer learning. 

Practically speaking, this comes in the form of “office hours” with our federal government leader program so that individuals can sign up for available slots to share their own learning goals, issues, and learning experiments with our facilitators. 

In another case, we’re working with some small, but growing accounting firms to provide targeted coaching to build skills such as managing teams in a remote environment, and being entrepreneurial.

4.   Deliver content in shorter time allotments

Sessions are two to three hours (max), and there had better be time for breakouts and discussion. This is what we’ve learned in our virtual leader cohort programs. Before the pandemic, we would easily deliver half-day sessions once a month. When everyone switched to remote, we knew that staring at a screen for half a day wasn’t feasible. While delivering virtually, we shrank the amount of time spent teaching concepts and content. 

We are now offering some of the content using video, articles, and questions posted to our online community (more on that later). That way, participants can spend the live-time sharing, connecting, and reflecting. We’re using breakouts and live whiteboards to keep leaders engaged and active during the experience. Yes, you can create powerful and engaging experiences by using features available in tech, that aren’t available in the classroom. When everyone can be active at once in a visible way, the participants can produce and share 5 to 10x as much together in the same amount of time as in-person experiences.

5.   Use technology to create connections and to grow culture

When people look back on their leadership development experiences, they most often talk about the connections and relationships that were built by learning and sharing together. This happens in the classroom for sure, but really takes off on breaks, during meals, and of course, happy hours. In-person connection is still the most natural way to quickly develop personal and professional relationships. But, we should not assume that it isn’t possible through technology. 

When we transitioned to a virtual platform, we developed an online community using Mighty Networks where participants could create profiles, share questions, and connect outside of the session. We have also hosted virtual coffees with and among program participants to bring in the virtual “break” conversations. Finally, we use Zoom breakouts regularly to practice and process learning together. It’s in these small groups and in 1:1 conversations where leaders get to learn from one another in a live setting and build connectivity. From there, they feel more comfortable taking their questions and ideas into the virtual community.

As organizational leaders seek ways to reimagine and re-engineer their leadership programs, they should seek new delivery methods that make the best use of time, tools, and technologies available today. In a time when leaders need the most help in their growth, we can craft fresh approaches that are flexible, relevant, and connecting.

Leadership is our big passion so get in touch with us if you’re thinking about leadership development and could use some creative thought partnership, design, and teaching. Sign up for a free 30-minute discovery call to discuss how we can help.

Evan Ishida

About Evan Ishida

The work I love is designing solutions and experiences that help people learn, collaborate, create, and innovate together. As a proud Ohio University Bobcat, I began my career as an internal consultant, and team leader in large global Fortune 200 corporations where I focused on learning and development, instructional design, communities of practice, and learning technologies.

Leave a Reply