Effective leadership training is experiential and intuitive

by Michael Mata17 Oct 2016
According to Deborah Rowland, author, consultant, and leading expert on strategic change and organisational development, too many business leaders are out of touch with the employees they lead. Edelman estimates that one in three employees doesn’t trust their employer, and more than two-thirds of employees feel that CEOs are too focused on short-term performance. 

“Part of the problem: Our primary method of developing leaders is antithetical to the type of leadership we need,” Rowland was quoted in the Harvard Business Review.

Most contemporary leadership programs are set curricula delivered through classroom-taught, rationally-based, and individually-focused methods. Participants are taught by expert faculty, made work on case studies, conditioned to receive personal feedback, and tasked to absorb the latest leadership thinking.  

“Yet study after study…tells us the qualities that leaders in today’s world need are intuitive, dynamic, collaborative, and grounded in here-and-now emotional intelligence,” Rowland said.

Based on years of extensive research, Rowland has broken down the best practices that lie at the heart of good, practical leadership development.

Make it experiential.
Neuroscience has proven that people learn the most (and retain that learning as changed behavior) when the emotional circuits within the brain are activated. “Visceral, lived experiences best activate these circuits; they prompt us to notice both things in the environment and what’s going on inside ourselves.”

Rowland advocates “living laboratory” leadership development. Trainees need to discard pre-planned learning materials that dictate how they should think about their world and how they need to lead it. These include teaching schedules, content, lectures, and exercises. In its place, trainees need to immerse themselves in self-directed experiences that replicate the precise contexts they need to lead in. These can act as “powerful experiential catalysts for learning and change”.

Influence your “being,” not just your “doing”.
Leaders need to work on their inner game by regulating their emotional and mental states. Doing so will help them develop their outer game. “It’s very hard for leaders to have courageous conversations about unhelpful reality until they can regulate their anxiety about appearing unpopular and until they’ve built their systemic capacity to view disturbance as transformational, not dysfunctional.”

Activities that promote calm and self-reflection can be used to cultivate the vital skills of purpose, self-awareness, empathy, and acute attentional discipline.