Are leaders born or made? This question has put theorists at odds over the years. The great man theory goes back to the mid-1800s and argued that people are simply born with the natural qualities that make them better at some tasks over others, such as musicians and athletes.

But I believe we are in this profession because we believe something fundamentally different. We believe that learning professionals can develop and deliver training programs and experiences that can truly change and improve behavior – including leadership. Based on the number of training suppliers and consulting companies that focus on leadership development, there are numerous approaches, models and strategies for developing leadership that have proved successful. So what makes some programs more successful than others?

Our research in understanding what makes a great training organization has highlighted the capabilities and practices that lead to effective training. We have found that great training organizations are process oriented and manage the learning experience over an extended period of time. Effective leadership development doesn’t occur in one course. It occurs when an individual continues the learning experience over time by practicing behaviors and learning from successes and failures on the job.

Here are four considerations when choosing a supplier for leadership development:

  1. Knowledge: When selecting a leadership training company, their training should be based on a body of knowledge of the behaviors effective leaders must exhibit in certain situations. This body of knowledge consists of the models and principles that leadership training programs are based on, as well as the characteristics they believe make a great leader. It is important to note that this body of knowledge should be founded in sound research, not just the experience of a successful executive during their ascent up the corporate ladder.
  2. Skills: We don’t always use the term “skills” when we speak of leadership development, but it’s critically important when selecting a leadership development supplier. Suppliers must be effective at teaching and applying their body of knowledge. The fact is leadership behaviors are developed skills. In any effective training program, we must communicate what the learner needs to know about the skill, as well as the most effective way to apply the skill in a given circumstance.
  1. Practice: Leaders of successful training organizations recognize the importance of applied skills. Leaders must practice how they will handle certain situations, so when the need arises, they are well prepared. Due to costs, the long-term repetitions needed for effective practice is limited in the classroom. The most effective approach is to prepare the learners to practice informally and gain on-the-job experience. Look for a training supplier that not only teaches the knowledge and skills but also prepares learners to practice and continue the learning experience independently in the workplace.
  1. Mentorship: Having someone who can help you continue to learn over an extended period of time is powerful. An effective mentorship program teaches mentors to teach. Mentors must be taught not only to provide feedback but to provide direction on learning opportunities and to hold the learner accountable when they are not practicing and continuing their development. All leaders can help other aspiring leaders, even while learning themselves.

The skills needed to be the CEO or president of an organization are quite different than the leadership skills needed to be a frontline leader on the manufacturing floor. However, the principles of human nature are the same; although, how they are applied can be quite different. Having a training partner that understands and has experience in delivering effective training is a powerful step in being a great training organization.

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