The Different Types of Leadership Training for Effective Leadership Development
Effective leadership is the key to employee performance and achieving your business goals. The skills needed by a leader varies depending on leadership level, but a good leader is one who utilises the most effective leadership styles for their position—whether you’re an emerging, new, or executive leader.
This is where leadership training programs come in. They’re designed to equip leaders with the essential leadership qualities to ensure leadership excellence at every level. In this article, we’ll discuss the different types of leadership development programs and how each one is tailored to help leaders learn the leadership capabilities of each distinct leadership position.
What are the different types of leadership training?
Leadership training is the structured and intentional learning process designed to develop individuals’ leadership capabilities. It aims to equip leaders with the necessary knowledge, skills, tools, processes and behaviours that enable leaders to deliver an organisational objective.
Leadership training programs come in a number of different types:
- Traditional classroom-based learning
- Online learning
- Experiential training programs
- Leadership coaching and mentoring
- Cross-cultural leadership training
- Change management training.
Why is it important to offer different types of leadership training?
No training is one-size-fits-all, leadership training included. In short, offering different types of leadership training programs ensures that you effectively meet the needs and preferences of leaders within your organisation, maximising your training return on investment.
Having different types of leadership training on offer allows tailored and customised training for individual needs. Strengths and weaknesses differ from leader to leader, so a variety of training programs equip participants with training that suits their needs and goals. In other words, leaders can focus on areas that will have the most significant impact on their personal and professional growth.
It also creates diverse learning opportunities for different learning styles (which can affect how people engage with learning). Some prefer on-the-job or experiential learning, while others benefit more from formal courses. By providing different methods, you ensure leaders are better engaged in learning, and will retain and apply more of their training in a leadership setting.
Leadership training also isn’t a one-time event, it’s a continuous process to enable incremental change in behaviours over time for organisational agility. So, having different leadership training methods on offer (such as mobile learning or a knowledge management system) encourages leaders to continue their capability development over time, and access it as they need it.
This improves accessibility and flexibility for employees unable to attend or benefit from a singular set training method. Remote workers who find it hard to attend in-person training, while employees with particularly busy schedules might have a hard time fitting time-consuming training in, making mobile or online learning more beneficial to them. There may also be employees who face accessibility issues with certain delivery methods, while finding others easier to engage with.
Plus, the skill sets required of entry-level leaders are different to what’s required of mid-level or even senior leaders. Think how communication skills are important for all leaders, but only senior leaders need to learn organisational strategy in enough depth to execute strategic planning. Variety in training methods can be more conducive to building certain capabilities required of different leadership roles.
Why leadership training fails
Leadership training is often just a box to tick, meaning legacy L&D approaches don’t match organisational needs. So, when they fail it’s often because of a general resistance to change in the workplace, a lack of learning culture, or misalignment with everyday work.
A resistance to change is usually just about a lack of buy-in (from employees and even other leaders. People won’t bother participating in training if they can’t see the relevance of it to their jobs. When leaders whose job it is to role model and champion training are also disinterested, there’s a lack of support and resourcing for participants. This just makes it harder for anyone to take part in development even if they wanted to. Plus, if participants return to their day-to-day work and find that the team itself (and its culture) are not only unchanged, but also unwilling to change at all, leaders won’t get very far (even with the new leadership styles they’ve learned).
There’s also the issue of not being able to actually apply any learned strategies and knowledge in your role. Sometimes training programs can present hypothetical situations for team building or problem solving activities which don’t accurately reflect any real-life scenarios you’re likely to face in your position.
Following up training by measuring results and revisiting learning is also an issue that leadership training faces. When leadership programs fail after the fact, it’s usually because the true impact of training is overlooked. It’s not just about how much participants enjoyed their development activities—it’s about the return on training investment, something which can’t occur if there are no follow-up reviews to ensure knowledge retention.
Obviously, this is unhelpful for leadership development. Your leadership programs should be impactful enough to motivate employees, and thorough enough to ensure retention and application. But when your leadership programs aren’t like that, it just means your leaders will be ill-equipped to drive the incremental behavioural changes that brings on long-lasting organisational change.
Designing different types of leadership training programs
As we mentioned above, leadership skill sets aren’t one-size fits all for different leadership levels. Your leadership development programs need to be tailored specifically to the leadership level you want to target and develop.
Let’s take a look at how you can design leadership training programs for three different levels of leadership:
- Emerging leaders
- New leaders and managers
- Executive leaders.
Leadership training for emerging leaders
Emerging leaders are the high achievers who show leadership potential within your organisation, but aren’t currently leaders themselves. It’s also known as emergent leadership, where employees step up to lead their peers, distinguishing themselves as future leaders.
An emerging leaders program (ELP) is a course designed to develop leadership capabilities in employees who are soon to move into leadership positions for a swifter succession planning process.
The important thing to remember when you design an emerging leaders program is that emerging leaders are just that—emerging. They aren’t currently in a leadership role where they can apply any high-level, leader-specific expertise, so it would be like equipping a customer service representative with skills that only the head of customer service can actually use.
Instead, emerging leaders programs should focus development on “leading self” and personal capabilities such as self-awareness, adaptability, and building a growth mindset. While they are important skills needed for leadership, they’re also useful in an emerging leaders’ day-to-day even before moving into leadership.
When it comes to ensuring effective retention in your leadership training program, you should:
- Offer challenging experiences. Practical experience is key when it comes to leadership development. Book smarts go a long way, but experienced leaders go further. Plus, they have a greater chance of retaining knowledge and expertise learned from repeated practice.
- Give support and feedback. Regular communication with emerging leaders on expectations ensures that they know what goals to meet and when. Managers and supervisors should also regularly give them updates and feedback on their progress. This way they can correct bad behaviours in real time and reinforce good behaviours for successful leadership into the future.
- Guide, don’t lead. Leaders need to take initiative on their own, but emerging leaders still need that extra push. Guide emerging leaders in the right direction (such as towards leadership training topics they should focus on, or even types of training methods to try) and they’ll do the rest.
- Enable collaboration. Both current and future leaders need opportunities to collaborate with their teams to ensure better decision-making and innovation. Offering collaborative experiences for emerging leaders means that they can build relationships and gain support from their team before they even step into a leadership position.
Leadership training for new leaders and managers
New managers and leaders are individuals who have recently stepped into leadership roles. At this point, new leaders will be actively leading a team, which means they need to learn leadership skills they can apply in their day-to-day work. And the stakes are high: McKinsey found that 90% of teams whose leaders successfully transition into the role go on to meet their three-year goals, compared to a 15% decrease in employee performance when a transition is poorly handled.
Because getting it right as early on as possible is so critical, you should build your leadership training into new manager and leader onboarding, such as with a 30-60-90 day plan.
At this stage, the best leadership training programs work to build crucial leadership capabilities and interpersonal skills like giving constructive feedback, problem solving skills, time management skills, and. It’s worth noting that new leader and manager leadership training programs are where it’s crucial that you support inclusive leadership, because if you don’t get it right here, you won’t have an inclusive environment or talent pool from which to pull diverse and inclusive senior executives. Think along the lines of women’s leadership development programs and championing diversity and inclusion.
Most importantly, you need to carry out a capability assessment to determine how competent your new leaders are in their required leadership skills and expertise. Competency is the levelled scale with which you can measure how proficient an individual is in a capability. Those levels could be:
- Beginner, or needs development
- Intermediate, or meets expectations
- Advanced, or exceeds expectations.
No one comes into a new role with all the know-how ready to go, so the chances are you’ll either meet expectations or need development in each capability. Managers can use the results from your capability assessment to prioritise which capabilities should be developed first in order to ensure you become the most effective leader.
Leadership training for executives
Executive leadership is the next step up. Where mid-level leaders and managers control and guide smaller teams, executives have a broader scope. They’re still responsible for teams and employees, but they’re also in charge of business activities such as strategic planning and delivering on organisational goals. So, executive leadership requires a change in mindset and behaviour that is forward-thinking.
To put it simply, an executive leadership program is designed for experienced leaders who want to further their careers and work on their professional growth. This level of leadership is also where leadership training becomes so important to get right, because executives have to be across strategy, mentoring, business decision-making, and change management. In other words, you need to tailor an executive leadership program to the specific needs of your business and its strategy.
Because executives have such high-level responsibilities, you’ll want to get started on their development as early as possible. You can use a 30-60-90 day plan specifically for executives either during the interview process or during executive onboarding to set expectations and plan your executive development.
Generally, you should break down your first 90 days plan into 30-day increments to make the tracking of goals and training easier to follow:
- The first 1-30 days should involve settling into the new executive position. This includes learning the job and materials and setting goals for the future. So, providing mentoring (both by and for executives) and building trust between team members (through one-on-one and weekly meetings) are crucial activities at this stage.
- The next 31-60 days are where executives start to become comfortable in their new role and perform their responsibilities more efficiently. Mentoring is still useful at this point, as if training in strategic thinking and execution.
- The last 61-90 days are where executives become productive and efficient. Supervisors should still do check-ins and mentoring with executives at this stage, but in general, they have an in-depth understanding of how to drive and execute company strategy. It’s important that executives receive feedback from employees as well to understand how their performance is going.
The impact of not offering leadership training
The most obvious side effect is that you’ll be preventing succession planning from effectively going ahead, as you won’t have potential leaders with the appropriate leadership traits to take over. But there are also other negative impacts that arise from a lack of leadership development.
- High turnover. When leadership transitions fail—and they will fail without a leadership development program—those leaders’ engagement and retention decreases by 20%. This means higher costs in hiring and recruitment, onboarding, and training, and reduced productivity from remaining employees picking up the slack.
- A lack of diversity and inclusion. Leadership development should be tailored to ensure that underrepresented groups in leadership (such as women and people of colour) have the tools and opportunities to become great leaders. Without equality in leadership, you get silos that impede innovation with homogenous perspectives. This means organisational culture and business and employee performance will suffer.
- Less agility and flexibility in the face of crises. Leaders can handle and manage change and challenges, but without leadership development, they’re ill-equipped to effectively deal with those changes. This just means your organisation will struggle to navigate and recover from inevitable crises, potentially harming your overall business health and bottom line. It also limits organisational growth.
- Decreased innovation. Leadership programs equip leaders with creative leadership skills that they can use to encourage employees to innovate, collaborate, and think outside the box. When innovation is decreased, company growth and agility is also reduced, which impacts your competitive advantage and means you’ll miss opportunities for advancement and success.
Designing a leadership training program doesn’t have to be hard, but it does have to be tailored to both the current needs of your business, and the needs of your current and future leaders. A leadership training program should focus on the different leadership capabilities required for its associated leadership level. So:
- Emerging leadership training should cover personal capabilities that are transferable to leadership positions, but aren’t related to active leadership as emerging leaders are not yet in leadership roles.
- New leader and manager training should cover the leadership skills that new leaders and managers will have to use in their day-to-day work.
- Executive leadership training should cover the leadership abilities that executives need to be across such as business strategy and strategic decision-making.
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