Do a Google search on “Leadership Training,” and you’ll find over 100 million results – academic programs, management training series, white papers, leadership “gurus,” articles, resources and more. Those of us in the leadership space are inundated with new-fangled approaches to understanding leadership, and teaching and training leaders today.
Through working with emerging women leaders at Fortune 500 companies and in academia and non-profits, I’ve formulated my own views about what goes into the making of a truly great leader – one who is capable of articulating a powerful, positive and compelling vision for organizational and individual growth, and who can generate the trust and support needed to execute on this vision.
To learn more about the best of the best in leadership training today, I was excited to catch up with Ray Carvey, Executive Vice President of Corporate Learning at Harvard Business Publishing. Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning division partners with clients to create world-class leadership development solutions for managers at all levels in global organizations and governments.
I asked Ray all about what top-level leadership training does now that it didn’t 10 years ago:
Kathy Caprino: What lessons have you and Harvard Business Publishing learned recently about employee training that you didn’t know before?
Ray Carvey: We’ve learned that there are several key dimensions of leadership training that must be present in all the programs we deliver, if we’re to help organizations thrive and succeed in today’s environments. These key dimensions are:
Developing a leadership mindset.
To evolve as leaders, managers have to internalize the idea that leadership is fundamentally different from managing tasks. Being a great leader means both managing tasks and functions well, but also understanding how to behave and “show up” as a leader. It can be hard to grasp for some, but it can be learned.
There’s a big difference between a learning organization and a training organization.
It surprises me how many training programs exist in a vacuum. They might focus on training on specific skills like time-management, budgeting and coaching, for example, but they incorporate very little business context into the design of their programs, and they measure metrics such as “usage,” rather than real business impact. Top-level training organizations move beyond abstract learning to understand how to align what they’re doing with key business objectives.
Our clients who really do this well speak in business terms, not in training lingo. For them, learning and development initiatives start out with what the business is trying to achieve. Some business goals we’ve helped clients achieve are building stronger capabilities for innovation, improving client/supplier relations in high-growth emerging markets, or shifting what has been a single-country headquarters mindset to a global one.
If content is king, then context is queen.
Context is so important for effectively incorporating learning into an organization. For learning, getting it right in the context of your organization’s needs is what makes it relevant, meaningful and “sticky.”
Leadership development doesn’t and shouldn’t look the same at every organization. For example, how leaders make decisions at a start-up in a high-growth industry is going to be quite different from decision-making at a 100-year-old organization in an established market.
Caprino: What does Harvard Business Publishing focus on in implementing its training programs?
Carvey: What matters in a program for us goes beyond traditional training measures. Yes, we track learner satisfaction and participation, but we focus on real business outcomes. How are we moving the needle on the business in terms of application to leaders’ daily jobs, career development and retention? What does the business need to see as a result of this program? The answers to questions like these shape how we design our programs.
5 things we believe a leadership program must have to be successful are:
Senior leadership involvement
Bring senior executives into leader development programs – as sponsors, mentors and coaches. Goodyear Tire & Rubber, for instance, involves senior executives in the design of programs, makes them a part of the communications plan, and taps them to co-moderate virtual sessions on topics in their area of expertise.
Tip: Invite executives in the early stages to learn what they want to see for results, then get them to commit to the role they will play well in advance.
Build interactive experiences that engage learners
Professionals are intensely busy, so you have to draw them in to learn. You can motivate them by delivering content through engaging video, using competition or other gaming elements, or allowing learners to make personal choices and indicate preferences as they progress. For example, BD, a global organization, is delivering learning via an online collaboration platform that offers fresh content on areas such as communication skills to strategy along with internal experts who have volunteered to lead discussion groups.
Tip: Investigate what motivates and excites leaders at your organization. Is it competition, exposure to senior executives, connecting with peers around the globe, or working on challenges that will really impact the business? Make sure the right elements exist in your company programs.
Define and agree on clear, measurable, and well-articulated objectives and expectations
Learning teams often respond quickly to a need from the business to deliver a program. For example, “We need a new program for high potentials.” What sometimes gets missed is what needs to be achieved through the program. What will success look like? A more robust leader pipeline, great alignment on corporate strategy?
Tip: Slow down and be crystal clear about what you want to accomplish before you start.
Caprino: How do the key leadership themes and messages of your programs today differ from those 10 years ago?
Carvey: The focus now is on preparing leaders to anticipate what’s coming next in the rapidly changing business environment, so they are ready to act. They must be plugged into their customers, competitors and markets, and be comfortable making decisions, even in the face of ambiguity.
Five key tips for leaders today:
1. Anticipate change and be ready yourself, and empower leaders at all levels to drive transformation and be change agents. This will require you to delegate.
2. Managing your talent well trumps everything else. Your excellence in your functional area (such as finance) is less critical than your ability to attract, inspire and keep great people on your team.
3. A global mindset means being open to diversity in all its forms, which is much more complex than knowing the right way to present your business card at a meeting with someone from another culture. Be open, be humble and guard against faulty assumptions.
4. Encourage learning across your organization, and make it part of your culture. Organizations that continuously learn and innovate will be able to maintain their competitive advantage.
5. Build and nurture your network. Leaders need to get things done through influence more than authority. Therefore, relationships and trust with a network of key individuals across regions and functions will be critical to moving thing ahead quickly and effectively.
For more about developing successful leadership training programs for your organization, visit Harvard Business Publishing.
(To build a happier, more rewarding career, visit kathycaprino.com.)