Years ago, I was invited to participate in a leadership development process. I was in my twenties and I remember being excited and somewhat nervous. The program lasted for several months. It consisted primarily of meeting regularly, being lectured by a domain expert, having some discussion that usually concluded with the domain expert telling us what was right and what was wrong, and getting assignments (reading and writing) that we had to have done by the time we got back together. Looking back, it was more of a leadership development class than a process. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember much from that class.
Several year later, I went through a different leadership training process. Like the first one, this one had “class” time. However, the classes were different. During each 2 hour segment, we listened to the domain expert for about 15 minutes. Then, we would process the newly learned information via discussion. The domain expert would ask questions, we would answer, which would then bring about more questions and so on. After the discussion, we would enter an “experiential learning” phase where we would engage in a physical activity such drawing, painting, hammering, walking, etc. The purpose of these unique exercises were to reinforce the learning from the lecture and discussion. After the experiential learning, we’d discuss more. We’d end each session by making commitments for what we would work on until the next session. Between sessions, we had regular access to the domain expert. He would call us, or we would call him. Sometimes we’d get together for lunch or coffee. Nothing formal, just more reinforcement from him on the concepts he was hoping we’d learn.
And guess what? The things I learned from this leadership training I not only retained, but I now regularly teach to others.
So, why did the second approach have such a lasting effect? I’m sure part of it has to do with my learning style. It seems I learn better from the “Socratic” method versus classroom style. But as I’ve reflected and compared both processes, I’ve identified three aspects of the second process that the first one didn’t have:
- Investment – In the “classroom” version, the leaders came, lectured, and left. If we wanted more time with them, we had to initiate and pursue. Comparatively, the leader in the second scenario was much more available. He proactively invested in us. He checked on us regularly. He displayed a genuine interest in our success. We felt pursued, and as a result, responded favorably to his belief in us.
- Invitation – In both processes, I was invited to participate. In the first scenario, the feeling of invitation turned into obligation at the first meeting. The entire experience was centered around the requirements place on me. However, in the second scenario, our leader made us feel invited throughout the entire process. For starters, we met in his home. He would meet us for lunch, share his own stories of success and failure, and give us permission to ask him anything at any time. We felt invited into his life and experience. We didn’t feel recruited. We felt wanted.
- Increase – The stated purpose of the first leadership development process was to train us to be better equipped to work in the organization. In comparison, our leader in the second scenario emphasized we were learning so that we could teach others as well. He wanted his training to have a multiplication effect: leaders training leaders. He was training us for the benefit of others. This wasn’t about him, or the organization. It was about everyone else.
Few of us need more class time. Besides, classroom training typically has a short shelf life. So, whether you are responsible for leadership training of others, or looking to be trained, follow the example of my second teacher. Create or seek an environment that invests in leaders beyond “class time”. Ensure that trainers are positioned to invite those they teach into various aspects of their lives. Find a paradigm where trainees are being taught to teach others. Take it from this guy…this approach has staying power.