Typically, when I hear criticisms of leadership development programs, the top three complaints are:

    • The content is too generic.
    • Participants don’t see the opportunity to apply what they’re learning.
    • The learning doesn’t stick.

Training Industry research estimates that, in 2019, organizations around the world spent about $3.5 billion on leadership development solutions. With that kind of expenditure, companies expect a significant return on investment (ROI).

Adding coaching to your leadership development program can help address all three of these criticisms and give you the biggest bang for your buck. Coaches can help by playing three roles:

1. The Tailor

Coaches can help tailor the content of a leadership development program to the individual, combating the first criticism: that the program content is too generic. A coach can clarify with a learner how the content pertains to them by debriefing a 360-degree assessment with the participant and putting together a development plan at the onset of the program. Identifying specifically what leaders want to take away from their development experience helps them actively and intentionally participate throughout the program.

With busy jobs and busy lives, learners don’t often stop to reflect of their own accord. Coaches can encourage them to journal on a regular basis, explore an issue through a coaching session or help elucidate their unique leadership style. A practice of self-reflection is key to developing as a leader. Coaches can encourage participants to examine their own leadership and notice the impact they have on others.

2. The Motivating Partner

It’s hard to stay intentional, energized and motivated to try new things. A coach can be the driver or support system for a learner who has realized that the development program is harder than he or she expected it would be.

One of the coach’s responsibilities is to encourage coachees to take risks and “put themselves out there.” As a coach during a recent leadership development program, for example, I asked participants questions like:

    • How might you push yourself a little bit more?
    • What’s holding you back from doing this?
    • How can you enhance your experience in this program?

Coaches can also help leaders leverage their visibility during the program. An important reason leaders participate in development programs is the opportunity to build relationships with other high-potential peers and network with senior leaders whom they normally wouldn’t cross paths with. Coaches help participants identify opportunities to reach out to people they’d like to connect with — for example, to share key lessons learned with a fellow participant or follow up with an executive after listening to his or her presentation.

Finally, when participants feel intimidated by being in the program, a coach can help build up their confidence and remind them of the reasons they were tapped. When learners recognize their strengths, they’re much more likely to see themselves as a leader and confidently put their new skills into practice.

3. The Skills Transfer-er

Coaches also help ensure that learners have the skills to apply lessons from the program to their job. They can suggest simple processes for participants to add into their day, such as drawing a symbol on their calendar every time they’ve tested a new leadership behavior or sharing key insights from their program with their team.

One of the most common reasons that the lessons from a leadership development program don’t stick is that the new practices don’t become habits. The coach’s role is to collaborate with participants to find out what would help them keep their new skills top of mind.

During longer programs, participants may forget some of the skills they learned months earlier. To make learning stick, they must reinforce and build on the foundational skills until they become second nature. A coach can be instrumental in connecting the dots for learners throughout their entire leadership development journey.

The benefits of having a coach during a leadership development program are numerous for both participants and the organization. It’s a role worth including in your leadership development strategy — and one that will generate an increased return on your investment.