Leadership training and development programs are ubiquitous, They’re also big business as part of a $14 billion industry. Despite the great interest, some companies are asking if it is even worth it?
Ironically, attempts to answer that question come from - wait for it! - the same organizations who provide the training. And the answers are usually some form of, “Not exactly...except for the way we do it!”
Fortunately, we can now provide a better answer that is grounded in scientific evidence. A recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of Applied Psychology examined results from 335 studies of leadership training. The results were surprisingly robust, and suggested that leadership training programs can lead to:
The article also suggests some best practices for a successful training program, including:
In our 3 part series on goal setting, we discussed the importance of approach goals, implementation intentions, and coping plans. Today I want to talk about the areas of your life in which you plan to implement them.
Leader development is personal development. As we grow in self-awareness, self-control, adaptability, self-confidence, and personal responsibility, we become better leaders and better people. That’s great news as the pay-offs of our hard work can be experienced in all aspects of life.
We have written on the benefits of taking a multi-domain approach to our own development and some of the ways our family life benefits our working lives. I’d like you to think for a moment about what you want to work on and how you can use the various aspects of life as a “developmental playground” in which you can practice as you progress towards your goals. As leadership is about relationships, we can often practice in other relationships.
While the payoffs can be great and our own development can be accelerated, I need to say: This isn’t easy. This is hard work and sometimes the dynamics of some areas of life make it even more challenging. Perhaps the obstacles and associated coping plans look different in different domains. We need to celebrate small wins and not let setbacks get us down.
Part 3: Coping with Obstacles
It’s the second week of January and you are back to the grind. All the hope you felt on January 1 from new “you” that would mark this year has deflated. The new goals are already forgotten, the wonderful implementation plan has not worked. So, now what?
This is a very common experience and the people who make it out of the woods in this difficult phase usually do because they have a coping plan. The coping plan is a strategy to overcome obstacles, both seen and unseen, and, it is quite similar to action plan in Part 2 in this series. If one must be intentional about practicing leadership, one must be equally deliberate about overcoming obstacles. Again, the video from Bite Size Psych can help (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLrd9mybAXI), but first we need to do some reflecting…
Identify Potential Obstacles
Before we can determine how to cope with obstacles, we need to identify what they might be. We know ourselves better than anyone and if we take honest look at how we stand in our own way, this might be a good starting point. We are not our only enemies, but we can at least control the obstacles we create for ourselves. So, let’s start there.
If my goal is to listen more intently to my teammates, my children, and my husband, what are some of the obstacles that I could anticipate?
And the external obstacles are also helpful to anticipate:
As you can see, there any number of obstacles that can stand in the way of our best intentions. A coping strategy might be:
“IF I feel rushed and lack time to listen, THEN I will tell my colleague/child/spouse that I really do want to hear the whole story and will need to set aside a time later in the day for it AND then schedule that time.”
Dealing with Unanticipated Obstacles
It would be nice if we could anticipate all obstacles, but, of course, that is unrealistic. The coping plan might need to happen in retrospect for unanticipated obstacles, but we also need to be mindful enough to see these obstacles and know we need to devise a work-around.
What obstacles have you already ran into? How can you create coping plans to work through obstacles when they inevitably arise?
Part 2: It’s About Being Intentional
Part 1 of this series was about setting leadership development goals in the New Year for successful implementation. First, the goal needs to be framed appropriately – an approach goal that is specific, time-bound, and measurable. But goals don’t magically occur once set, they need an action plan, an implementation intention.
One great way to get the gist of this is from a 4-minute video by Bite Size Psych (There’s a link in our Resources page under Implementation Intentions. But to investigate it even more, look into the research on deliberate practice by K. Anders Ericsson .
What this research tells us that we can gain expertise in just about anything by being very deliberate, or intentional, about how we practice it. So, setting specific goals is a starting point to identifying what to practice when comes to leadership development, and with this post we will explore how to deliberately practice leadership behaviors. We need an action plan and one that cues us to utilize a new behavior. The easiest way to do this, is to create some If/Then statements: “if it is 8am on Monday, then I will send three emails to colleagues with positive feedback.” The IF provides the cue, the THEN makes very clear what will happen.
The most interesting piece about this process is that it focuses on small changes, rather than grandiose, yet insurmountable changes. Deliberate practice is about incremental change, not the big bang of suddenly being a completely different person (which is quite unrealistic), rather, taking an incremental and intentional approach to changing the way one leads, or, perhaps more accurately, aligning one’s leader behaviors with one’s leader identity narrative. In other words, become the leader we want to be is not a rapid change from one day to the next, but when we are deliberate and intentional about making incremental changes, we evolve into our ideal over time.
What small change will you make in your leading behaviors that gets you closer to your leadership goals?
Part 1: Make it an Approach Goal
It’s now that time of year when we anticipate a new beginning, a new year to start fresh on the things that we know we should or want to do or be, but up until now we just haven’t had the time, energy, or motivation. A new beginning gives us hope because it seems like a natural starting point for making a change. The only problem is that most good intentions remain intentions and very rarely sustained action – proverbial New Year’s resolution that works for about a week and the rest of the year is back to same old habits.
As you are thinking about the changes you want to make in the New Year, we encourage you to think about the type of leader you want to be and what small changes you can intentionally practice to reach that goal. Changes are easiest when goals have certain characteristics, there is an action plan for achieving goals, and a coping plan for overcoming anticipated obstacles.
Frame Goals as Approach Goals
Most people I know have heard about SMART goals and when I mention the word, they usually say “yeah, yeah, SMART goals,” in a very knowing and “don’t bother me with something basic” tone. And yet, when they set their goals, they are anything but SMART – vague, unclear, not time-bound, and doomed to fail. So, step one is to set a goal that is specific enough that you know what you are trying to accomplish, you know how it look when it is completed, and you know when it will be accomplished. When it comes to leadership development goals, this can be tricky because leadership is a life-long journey, so you never truly reach a destination per se and measuring, therefore, is similarly tricky. But, you can put in horizons for yourself, that give you evidence that you are making progress. An example might be: “to effectively use inspirational motivation tactics once a week for the next 6 months, measured by feedback from teammates and mentors.”
See how that is time-bound, a specific behavior, and a measurable? Now, the other key to setting a good goal, which is often glossed over, is how the goal is framed. Usually we have an implicit idea of what we want to change, but articulating it into an actionable goal is challenging. The hardest goal to reach is one that avoids a particular behavior: quit smoking, stop being negative, stop interrupting people. Avoidance goals are impossible to reach, because at what point have you successfully stopped being negative, for example? When you go one day without a negative comment? What if something negative creeps in the next day? Therefore, it is much easier to approach new and positive behaviors: make 3 positive comments each day. That’s a behavior a that is easy to accomplish, and we can celebrate it when we do.