Solving the Leadership Development Dilemma
Creating skilled and effective leaders is more critical to the success of companies than ever. The complex nature of the global market combined with the ever-increasing pace of business requires highly competent leaders that not only survive but thrive in managing chaos and leading change. Ironically, however, it is exactly this fast paced and highly demanding environment which is making it harder to actually develop current and future leaders. Many companies and leaders cringe at the idea of taking a full day – let alone 3 or 5 days – away from the office to focus on leadership or culture development. Add to this the shorter attention spans and a greater desire for instant gratification created by our technology laden environment, and you get a situation where leaders lack the motivation to participate in leadership development.
This challenge is further complicated by the fact that even when leaders do make the time, the effectiveness of a single training event has questionable impact on their performance. Some studies have even shown that adult learners only retain about 50% of what they learn in a lecture setting. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, “anecdotal evidence on skills transfer suggests that barely 10% of the $200 billion annual outlay for corporate training and development in the United States delivers concrete results.” With a clear need to develop more leaders, faster - how are companies to solve this dilemma?
In our experience, the most effective way to develop leaders is through the combined use of longitudinal microlearning, leadership coaching, and traditional workshops
Technology to the Rescue
Fortunately, there is an emerging solution to this dilemma which is made possible by our ever-connected digital world. Microlearning is an approach to development that delivers content in short focused bites over a long period of time. This method of development provides the dual benefits of minimizing the time away from work (for example, our own platform Insider Edge requires less than 10 minutes per week), while dramatically increasing retention.
Microlearning is based on the latest neuroscience regarding how humans learn (although, some of this we have known for a while). In the 1880’s a German psychologist named Hermann Ebbinghaus created what he called “the forgetting curve.” Through experimentation, Ebbinghaus showed that without spaced repetition, people tend to forget 90% of what they learn within 30 days. Microlearning can leverage this brain hack to dramatically increase retention by reinforcing content using spaced repetition over a long period of time. This helps to avoid information overload as each session is short and focused.
Available Anytime and Anywhere
Additionally, because technology enables content to be delivered through an online platform, leaders have the ability to access the content anytime from anywhere for a quick refresher on a topic. This type of on demand or at the point of need availability further increases the effectiveness of microlearning. Having the content broken down into small accessible segments makes it much more accessible than a traditional book or course materials.
This trend is even spreading to the personal wellness space where mindfulness and meditation apps such as Simple Habit, Headspace and Calm are available right on your phone. Simple Habit, for example, has stated that they desire to be the Netflix for mindfulness, and has recognized a growing need for focus on leadership content. The move away from time-and-place constrained events to a continuous development experience has already begun.
It’s a Journey, Not an Event
Leadership development is a journey, not an event. The ultimate goal of any leadership development program is to produce changes in how the leader behaves and the choices that he or she makes. As experts in the science of human behavior, we recognize that meaningful and lasting behavioral change takes time and rarely occurs as the result of a single training event.
True leadership development focuses on the self and fundamentally changes the way the individual experiences themselves and interacts with the world. To do this, it requires growing their self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-accountability. The intersection of these three capabilities produces a potent personal capacity which allows faster and more effective integration and application of new skills – especially the “soft” ones which are so critical in leadership. This type of growth doesn’t happen instantaneously but evolves iteratively over time.
This is not to say, however, that traditional leadership development workshops are useless. They have a very important role in a comprehensive leadership development program. Workshops allow leaders to get out of the office and take time to focus on themselves and their development. They can create an immersive experience where concepts can be addressed at a deeper level with the opportunity for questions and answers. They also provide an opportunity for leaders to learn from their peers and be reaffirmed by the fact that they aren’t alone in the challenges they face.
In our experience, the most effective way to develop leaders is through the combined use of longitudinal microlearning, leadership coaching, and traditional workshops. These three components provide continual reinforcement and spaced repetition, personal reflection and individualized support, and immersive experiences in a distraction-free environment. When designed effectively, they create a synergistic effect where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The ultimate result is leadership development that minimizes downtime, accelerates development, and produces meaningful behavioral change.