Leadership development programs are a bit like weddings. As soon as the word ‘leadership’ appears, the price seems to go up. As with any expensive item (think: house, car), it attracts many peddlers.
However good leadership development is a worthy investment for two reasons:
Large ripple effects
If the program has a lasting impact, the positive ripple effects in an organisation are both large and wide. Think: productivity, staff retention, lower absenteeism, innovation, safety, and that holy grail of employee commitment – a strong care factor.
Good artisans are rare
A good leadership development facilitator will have more than knowledge. They will have wisdom, and deep experience in personal growth.
Wisdom is pattern recognition, which requires many data points…that is, experience. This takes time. With a good leadership facilitator, you are paying for wisdom gleaned from a lifetime of learning.
However, as we know, time doesn’t always lead to learning. We know old people who have precious wisdom, but we also know old people who stopped learning before their wrinkles even began. Time on the track doesn’t automatically create wisdom. It’s the combination of time, courage and deliberate engagement in learning.
If your facilitator truly values personal growth, they will role model good leadership behaviour. The best teachers are adept learners, so they will also role model good learning behaviours.
How can you assess whether a leadership facilitator has wisdom and will be a good role model of learning? As with any talent assessment, ask them to share examples with you, and explore the specifics in real time.
Leadership facilitators can be charismatic, and very good at connecting with people. If you find them instantly likeable, it’s even more important to pursue very convincing answers to these questions:
Q1: What’s the most significant development leap forward you’ve had personally, and what produced it?
This is likely to be a very personal story. Go there. And give it plenty of time and detail. This person should be able to disclose willingly, the details of their own personal development. They will be asking others to get comfortable with discomfort, so they need to show the way. They should not be distant, emotionally inaccessible, or “head-ey” or they won’t be able to guide others through change. Real development involves changing emotional patterns. It sometimes involves looking at painful stuff we’ve avoided for our whole life. They need to know the territory, not just the map.
Q2: What is your personal development goal at the moment?
If this person believes deeply in the value of human growth, they will be actively pursuing a growth agenda themselves. Ask them what their current goal is, what they’ve done so far to pursue it, how much success they’ve had, what they’ve learnt, and how this is showing up.
If their only learning goals are technical (e.g. a language or how to use social media), or they struggle to articulate their current learning journey, they may not value it enough to take your people on the challenging journey. If their only examples are from the past (e.g. the answer to Q1), and they have no current goals, they may only learn when difficult situations are thrust upon them, rather than valuing growth generally.
Q3: What methods do you use for your own personal growth?
It’s easy to wax lyrical about our ‘learning journey’. But someone who deeply values growth will have specific tools and methods for learning from their experience, and integrating that learning into life. If they are going to teach others how to learn and grow, they need to be able to clearly articulate how to go about it, and be adept at it themselves.
Q4: What kind of participants do you find most challenging, and how do you deal with them?
We all have them, and they often reflect our own character structure. It might be the aggressive confronting type, it might be the avoider who tells you what you want to hear, it might be the cynic who feels the need to challenge you on every point. What does this person do in the face of that behaviour, and how effective are they?
Q5: How do you use group interactions to reinforce good leadership behaviour in real time?
This is one of the toughest things to do as a leadership facilitator. Let’s say you’ve agreed that as leaders, people need to feel safe with us. Then someone in the room puts down a colleague through the use of humour. Everyone laughs. Even very experienced professionals often fail to harness critical moments like this to change the culture of the group. It challenges us at a very basic level of in-group/ out-group acceptance.
A good facilitator will shine the light on this moment. They’ll have a way of upholding the dignity of both people, while helping the recipient feel safe enough to admit how it felt. Then they’ll facilitate a discussion about the impact. These moments are pivotal. A good facilitator will have the courage and skill to harvest them.
Q6: What specific tactics do you use to ensure learning transfers to the workplace?
It’s easy to design sessions that participants enjoy, but this is by no means the outcome you’re paying for. Your facilitator should be able to point to multiple ways in which their program escorts the learning out of the class room and into real life.
Q7: Should we be selective about who participates?
The answer to this should be yes. You only want to include people who genuinely want to grow. You don’t want the influence of vacationers or conscripts. (See this post for more.) Tell them you want to be inclusive and not leave anyone out, and see if they have the courage to question your thinking.
Building the character for leadership requires challenging experiences supported by someone who knows the territory intimately. It is this person who will determine whether your investment has ongoing ripple effects through a deep impact on your leaders. Take the time to choose wisely.