In a previous job, I was one of eight mid-level marketers who was selected to participate in an extensive 2-day leadership development program. It was in the UK, so most of us were flown overseas and put up in a nice hotel. We then went through a series of exercises that helped senior leadership figure out which of us were best positioned for ‘future leadership opportunities.’
We had to do things like develop presentations, participate in complex case studies, and do tricky role play scenarios – all while being monitored by the senior leadership team. We were assessed on a mix of hard and soft skills. Talk about pressure… some of us didn’t sleep at all the night before.
Not surprisingly, some of the participants hated this experience. I (mostly) enjoyed it, where I learned a lot about how I work under pressure, and valued the feedback I received. But one of my main takeaways was that I wanted others in the company to be able to experience this sort of learning opportunity. At the very least, I wanted a lite version that everyone could go through.
At the same company, there was a series of recurring ‘knowledge transfer’ meetings that were held by one unit, where one person would pass on knowledge about a topic to others. This unit and the marketing unit were strategically linked… it was crucial that they were working together from the same strategies. And most of the training that applied to the one unit would apply to the marketing group. When I suggested to the owner of these knowledge transfer meetings that we open it up beyond just the one group, the answer was basically ‘nah, that would make it more complicated.’ Not surprisingly, I found it ironic that a ‘knowledge transfer’ meeting was being structured to prevent full knowledge transfer.
I’ve seen this same sort of thing happen elsewhere, where we ‘silo’ who knowledge is for. ‘Leadership training’ is only for those who are earmarked as ‘future leaders.’ ‘Knowledge’ is only for those in my unit, whatever unit that happens to be.
In Harvard Business Review, Deborah Rowland makes a convincing case that most leadership training is focused on the wrong things. She writes that there are “four factors that lie at the heart of good, practical leadership development: making it experiential; influencing participants’ “being,” not just their “doing”; placing it into its wider, systemic context; and enrolling faculty who act less as experts and more as Sherpas.”
I’d like to suggest an additional factor – that leadership training is focused at most or all levels of the organization. How many times have we heard of the entry level person that went on to become CEO? They likely had access to some sort of leadership development opportunity (mentorship, stretch assignments, etc.) that helped pave their path. Every single employee should be empowered, in some way, to lead within their companies. What company wouldn’t benefit from that?
For an example of a company TTA has worked with that was focused on maximizing their leadership training audience, see our Unum Insurance case study.