“Good leaders are born, not made.” This statement, catchy as it may sound, is simply not accurate.
Leadership is not a hair color that one is born with. It’s a skill — and like any other skill, it can be taught and honed. Through leadership training, all employees can learn the skills they need to become great leaders.
Why is it, then, that leadership training is so often viewed as an exclusive club that should only admit members of the C-suite? And does this approach help or hurt your company?
In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of leadership training programs and identify the people who need them. We’ll also look at why leadership training fails… and how you can make sure it won’t.
The importance of leadership training
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: leadership training is important because great leadership is important.
Great leadership can set and help sustain a great company culture. Leaders inspire employees and keep them engaged; they attract and retain top talent; they foster a strong company reputation that in turn brings more clients.
And yet according to a recent Gallup study among U.S. employees, only 15% strongly agree that their leaders make them feel enthusiastic about the future. Only 13% say the leadership of their organization communicates effectively. And two out of three employees believe there is widespread corruption in business. These are… not good numbers.
But here’s some good news: effective communication and the ability to inspire people are teachable skills, usually included in leadership training.
Of course, leadership training, like any other kind of training, is not a panacea that will magically solve all your company’s problems. But if done right and consistently, and offered to the right people, it can usher in lasting transformation.
Who should get leadership training
So who are these “right people” that leadership training should be offered to? Because leadership training can be quite expensive, it’s often an exclusive benefit only for a few top employees of the company — mostly C-suite and high-level managers.
Making your leadership training programs more widely available within your company however has notable benefits.
For starters, employees will be able to develop solution-oriented thinking and a growth mindset. They’ll become better decision-makers and get a chance to grow their innate leadership skills. This will not only create a more flat structure hierarchy (which is great for employee engagement) but it will also give your company more tools when it comes to handling unexpected changes.
As serial entrepreneur and investor Kristopher Brian Jones argues in this Forbes article, leadership training isn’t just a way to refresh and reset the mindset of your existing leaders. It’s a way to invest in the next generation of leaders — and make sure they’re ready to take over when the time comes.
Of course, only you can decide how much money you are able to invest in leadership training. But even if offering leadership training company-wide is not possible right now, making it accessible to more employees is a worthy investment.
Top skills to include in leadership training programs
When putting together a program for leadership and management training, you need to consider which skills to include.
In contrast to regular employee training, leadership training has a bigger focus on soft skills. Understandably so: your top management is usually expected to have a thorough grasp of the hard skills needed to perform their work and oversee the work of others.
As this Training Industry article points out, focusing on transferable, interpersonal skills is pivotal to increased leadership effectiveness. In fact, it’s this focus on soft skills that makes leadership training useful to so many people in your company — regardless of their current business title.
Find below some of the top skills to include in management training and leadership development.
Ability to give clear and actionable feedback
Giving feedback is a key part of the learning journey. If done properly, frequent and actionable feedback can motivate employees to keep improving. If done poorly, it can seriously affect their performance and engagement. A good leader or manager needs to learn how to navigate this.
Being a role model
You’ve probably heard the phrase “a great leader should lead by example.” But did you know it’s a teachable skill? Learning how to be a role model means learning to emulate the values and vision of the company while being accountable and adhering to the work ethic.
A very straightforward leadership skill — and yet, like feedback, potentially very damaging when done poorly. A great leader shouldn’t be an angry teacher or an impersonal lecturer. They should be able to coach employees to develop their full potential; they should be able to find and use coachable moments in the day-to-day.
Ability to influence and negotiate
Thankfully, the days when a leader was expected to assert authority by yelling at employees or issuing demands are long gone. Nowadays being a good leader is quite similar to being a good salesperson: you need to be able to influence the actions of your co-workers and employees — and negotiate the optimal outcome in every situation.
Agility and change management are increasingly valuable skills for anyone in a leadership position. The world has changed a lot within the past year and more changes are sure to come. A great leader should be flexible and adaptable enough to lead their team through change, transition, and growth.
Fostering collaboration and open communication
Learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum — and neither does growth. One of the most important soft skills to include in your leadership training is the ability to collaborate and communicate properly across departments. Especially now that so many team members work remotely.
Showing — and practicing — empathy
Being able to connect to others on an emotional level is now more crucial than ever. The rise of remote working means team members may feel alienated or they may be going through tough, personal times. A great leader needs to be able to handle that and show employees and team members that they’re being heard, valued, and understood.
Note: Don’t forget experiential training
Although the focus on soft skills should not be understated, experiential training is also a very important aspect of leadership training. This will look different depending on your industry and on your company’s needs but, usually, it involves project-based workshops and real work simulations.
This type of training helps leaders (and everyone, really) handle the various “what ifs” of day-to-day work. When offered to the whole team, experiential training can also be a great bonding experience.
How to successfully deliver leadership training
For all of the focus and money invested on leadership training (about $14 billion in the U.S.), it doesn’t always yield results. Why? Looking at the most common reasons why leadership training fails, either organizational or practical problems arise.
The practical problems are easier to tackle, as they have to do with how the training was delivered — specifically when it comes to content, frequency, and delivery method.
Find the right content balance
Content-wise, there needs to be a good balance between experiential training, soft-skills, and relational training, and other theoretical courses. Many companies are opting for the 70-20-10 rule, where 70% is experiential training, 20% is relational and soft skills, and 10% is theoretical coursework.
You need to find the balance that’s right for your company but, in general, focusing a bit more on soft skills training can help.
Soft skills training goes beyond learning: it helps people establish new behavioral patterns and use these patterns in the long run. It’s also evergreen training, which means it will be relevant to your team in 5 years from now — even if your company’s situations have changed.
Increase the frequency
Another practical problem that hinders the delivery of successful leadership training is the frequency. The traditional reasoning goes something like this:
- We only offer leadership training to our C-Suite.
- Our C-Suite is very busy.
- Leadership training thus needs to be immersive but not frequent as they don’t have time to spare on a daily basis.
- How about a 2-day seminar to cram the learnings of the whole year?
The fact that this approach doesn’t work should be obvious. Like any other training, leadership training needs to become a habit in order for it to “stick”. Short, frequent sessions are much more likely to wield results than a weekend stuck in a hotel (or in front of a Zoom screen) listening to lectures once or twice a year.
Speaking of which…
Adapt your delivery method
The best training programs are seamless enough so as not to disrupt the learner’s daily tasks. The same principle applies to leadership training programs.
Using a blended learning approach is your best bet. You can use your LMS to deliver a series of short instructional videos and slides at the beginning of your training. Then, after you’ve given people the time to digest the information, set up some coach-led webinar sessions. Remote learning makes things easier, as you don’t have to invite experts to travel on a specific date, arrange accommodations, etc. Plus, self-paced learning fits better with managers’ busy schedules.
Another thing you need to consider is investing in an LMS that has a native app compatible with iOS and Android phones and tablets. This gives flexibility to learners (be they part of the C-Suite, managers, or employees) to take the training when and where they can. You’ll be surprised at how much this affects engagement.
Take a look at your company as a whole
You may find yourself in a situation where you’re doing everything right and still don’t see results. In that case, you need to take a long, hard look at your company as a whole. The existing rigid hierarchy in the workplace and current company culture may not allow for much wiggle room for leaders to turn their learnings into action.
Consider what structural changes you can make so that your investment in leadership training becomes worthwhile.
In 2021, ideas about what constitutes great leadership have changed a lot. Leadership training needs to focus on soft skills such as empathy, communication, and agility. It needs to be delivered in a flexible, frequent, and diverse manner. And it needs to be open to more learners than just the top management.
All these things can become easier with the help of a corporate LMS. With the right tool, you’ll spend less time organizing your leadership training programs, and more time on what really matters: preparing your company’s future leaders.
Improve your employee, partner and customer training with our enterprise-ready learning management system. Book a demo now and see why our diverse portfolio of customers consistently give us 5 stars (out of 5!)