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Delivering Leadership Development Training

Delivering Leadership Development Training

Leaders need a range of competencies in order to be effective and after a well-run training needs analysis we should be able to identify which skills are most in need of development in any one individual or for a group of people. However, the content of the leadership development training is only one side of the equation and we need to give just as much thought to the delivery options that are available to us. This is not only to vary the training experience for individuals but also because every leader is likely to have different preferences in terms of learning styles.

Learning styles may reflect preferences for a range of quite different experiences for each leader who is to be trained. Amongst the many are:

  • Quiet reflection alone or one-on-one versus lots of interaction with others,
  • Lots of facts and data versus lots of concepts and ideas
  • One way presentation of information versus lots of group discussion
  • Practical demonstrations versus detailed verbally-delivered instructions or reading,
  • Big picture overviews versus Deep Drill-downs and lots of detail on topics
  • Training delivered slowly and with low energy versus training delivered quickly and with high energy
  • Training with lots of applied exercises/case studies versus training with a chance to read/research more (before or after a training “event”)
  • A logical or sequential learning path versus a random and varied learning path
  • Listen and learn based learning versus Practical/live experiential learning
  • Experimental and creative learning versus Highly validated and analytical learning

And so the list could go on. The point here is that every leader is different and will therefore benefit from as much choice as can be made available for leadership development training.

So what are our delivery vehicle options in the modern world, especially as new technology has evolved so rapidly in recent times to assist with the learning journey? Basically, as the table below indicates, there are ten individual training delivery options (although it should be noted that some of these overlap and may be used in combination at times);

  1. Self-paced Reading
  1. Self-assessment and reflection/learning
  1. One-to-one Coaching/Mentoring
  1. Small Briefing groups
  1. Traditional Classroom workshops
  1. Project based Action-learning
  1. Computer-based E-learning
  1. 180/360-degree feedback and development
  1. Conferences/Webinars/Podcasts
  1. Mobile/Smart-phone/Tablet based learning

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail:

1. Self-paced Reading

Although this is a very old and traditional training delivery method it is still one of the most efficient and cost-effective. In this category, a whole range of leadership books and booklets are available (and continue to be written) as well as many case studies, pamphlets and short training or job-aids (including charts, graphs, table, storyboards and much more). Much of this reading is now available via smart phone apps and tablets, giving this channel a whole new lease of life. Today reading is rarely the only leadership development training activity but it is often included before and after other experiences such as self-assessments, workshops and e-learning, for example.

2. Self-assessment and reflection/learning

Although their history was largely in military circles and related to job selection and task aptitude, self-assessments in the last 50 years have diversified greatly and become extremely popular as a developmental activity for all individuals and leaders in particular. The process of filling-in a targeted questionnaire on leadership behaviors or on a particular competency or topic for example (which can in itself be highly instructive and educational for the individual), is usually followed by a categorized output report with a number of linked developmental suggestions which the individual questionnaire-taker can then adopt as he or she (or the boss) sees fit. This makes self-assessment a very cost-effective way to introduce an individual to a topic or prepare them for other deeper developmental activities.

3. One-to-one Coaching/Mentoring

Very little coaching was carried out in organizations as little as 25 years ago but today it is one of the primary leadership development training channels. In addition, where coaching was mainly only used in very senior leadership circles, it is now used extensively across the managerial population of many organizations. Coaching is still a relatively expensive development option but it is almost perhaps the most tailored or customized experience for an individual leader. It also allows the leader to regularly talk with an experienced and skilled individual outside the organization. Some coaching can also be achieved by external and internally appointed mentors but this is still used on a relatively limited basis.

4. Small Briefing groups

Briefing groups of perhaps 4-8 individuals mainly became poplar in the late 1960’s/1970’s. For the most part they are short sessions (90 minutes to 3 hours on average) in which a facilitator (which may be an external or internal trainer or a line manager) guides the discussion. This discussion, which can be held as a once-off or a regular basis (such as at 9.00 am every first Tuesday of the month) is usually “themed” or topic-focused and allows some information to be presented to the group but typically takes most of the time for discussion or activities to take place. This is a cost-effective educational option and often needs only short training aids or hand-outs to make the experience a useful one (both for the session leader and the attendees).

5. Traditional Classroom workshops

Probably the oldest vehicle for training, the traditional classroom session or workshop (either internally developed or third-party developed) has survived for decades manly by being adaptive and flexible in terms of length and location. Thirty years ago or more leadership workshops may have been 3, 4 or 5 days long and delivered “off-site”, allowing attendees to socialize in both the course (between sessions) and in the evenings. Today, leadership workshops tend to be much shorter, with one or two days being the norm, and much more likely to be delivered “in house”. They have also changed in format in recent times with the use of more varied exercises, games, simulations and case studies now being more often in the mix as well as technology contributing to a much greater extent (such as the use of laptop use for all attendees and videos in presentation material for example). Workshops remain popular in larger organizations but they can be expensive to put on, so are often reserved for more senior staff.

6. Project based Action-learning

Action-learning is an experiential development approach in which a group of people come together in a series of short project-type meetings to help each other to learn from their shared experience. Participants typically came from different functions, levels, experiences or situations.  Working in a team or “set” the group seeks to solve a particular problem in a new or creative way, essentially through a process of sharing and brainstorming. Sometimes, action-learning projects are set-up as a stand-alone development activity but can also be added to other forms of leadership development efforts (and especially traditional classroom workshops or even during or following e-learning sessions).

7. Computer-based E-learning

E-Learning is still an evolving technology which acts as a “catch-all” term for learning via a computer. This may be in a fixed classroom type setting, with supervision and support nearby, or provided on a remote-access basis via internet connection (from home or field office location). E-learning modules vary greatly in content, length, quality and cost and have suffered a reputation for being very “hit or miss” in terms of their effectiveness (particular due to high levels of program abandonment if not well-supported). However, e-learning modules are rapidly changing for the better in general and this approach is likely to be a much more cost-effective and successful leadership development training vehicle in the future, as long as great care is taken in designing or choosing the applicable program, and in particular if such modules are used in combination with other training delivery methods.

8. 180/360-degree feedback and development

In the last 15 years or so, online technology has made the completion of assessments very easy and the application of 180-degree feedback (the boss to the individual) and 360-degree feedback (the boss and a range of colleagues to the individual) simple to undertake and to then provide a rich report as a result. Many of these online 180/360-degree assessments now provide extensive reports with development suggestions that an individual may undertake and may also offer “live” feedback (in person, over voice-over IP or on the telephone) so that individualized coaching and development advice can be given.

9. Conferences/Webinars/Podcasts

Leadership and Management conferences have a long history of many decades as a vehicle through which to develop leaders, mainly by introducing them to a series of new ideas in presentations by subject-matter experts and by allowing attendees to interact with peers at a given conference who work in other organizations. However, an extension of the conference idea, which tends to limit this social interaction part, is now widely available over the Internet by synchronous webinar (meaning that it is live to everyone attending when broadcast, allowing some interaction between audience members) or asynchronous (meaning that its is recorded and then made available via Podcast or audio only or via Video cast with pictures and sound). This helps to reduce the cost of training albeit the benefits may be lessened somewhat. This development channel is evolving so expect changes for the better here.

10. Mobile/Smart-phone based learning

Perhaps the youngest and most unknown of the leadership development training delivery options is mobile delivery, especially via smart phones and tablets. The advantage of this vehicle is that the individual can access the learning from anywhere and often anytime, and therefore take very much a self-paced learning approach. This channel can be considered as different to the others in as much as it is a technology vehicle to provide many of the other training activities described above. For example, reading of all kinds, self-assessments, e-learning, pod/video casts and even live coaching can be delivered by this channel. At the moment this approach is still very much in its infancy at an organizational training level. However, this is likely to change rapidly in the next decade or so, especially with then huge explosion of specialized learning “apps” for the smart phone can tablet.


The particular content to be covered in any leadership development training is important to carefully determine but, as we have seen, it is equally important to think about the training delivery channel or vehicle that is likely to be most successful given a range of factors. These factors will include the individuals’ learning styles, time available, the location of the leaders, cost or budget and available technology to name but a few. Each of the ten delivery options described above can stand alone as a learning experience but increasingly are used in combination or what is popularly called “blended-learning” fashion. In addition, the bias today is to move away from the more passive and theoretical leadership development approaches of the past and move towards more visual and experiential learning approaches in every channel. As the Chinese philosopher Confucius said over 2,500 years ago in this regard: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” In combination therefore the more these training channels can be used together intelligently, we more we give individuals the practical skills they need to be better leaders in action than just better leaders in theory.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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  1. Tim LambertNovember 30, 2012 at 10:30 am

    The issue I see is that not enough people are stepping forward to assume the mantle of leadership, and those that do are role-modeling old-style leaders who aren’t equipped to handle the challenges of today and tomorrow.

    I think there are two significant factors that carry the lion’s share of responsibility for this state.

    1. The leaders who got there the hard way (on their own, treading on toes, hugely ambitious, who turned arrogance into an art-form) don’t value ‘leadership development’ and don’t invest in it for their ultimate replacements. They didn’t need it so why should the new generation?

    2. But our potential leaders of the future are also a block, because they base their opinion of leadership on what they see today or what they have grown up experiencing from their hierarchical superiors. It leads them to the conclusion that “I’m not cut out to be a leader” or “I don’t see myself as leader material”. So they don’t put themselves forward. They don’t want to compete. It’s less “if you can’t beat them, join them” and more “if you can’t compete with them, walk away!”

    So the challenge is getting the right people to sign up.
    We need leaders to emerge who will be allowed to grow into the type of leader that’s fit for a 21st century, post-recession economy. In fact, we need them to help get us out of recession and stay out!

    Who’s going to train them, mentor them and invest in them? The people with the money, authority, and definitely the need, aren’t taking the lead here. These senior leaders who know no other way to lead other than the way they have led in the past are not best-placed to see this leadership revolution through. They are unlikely to recognise the need or sign the cheques.

    There will always be enlightened leaders who realise they are ill-equipped and need to develop a new breed of leaders who will do things differently. But there simply aren’t enough of those about.

    So where does that leave us? Can we persuade these leadersaurus’s to see their ultimate extinction and change their behaviours? Can we encourage them to take a different approach and throw their full support behind the new generation?

    It’s not impossible, but it’s a tough ask and it might take too long?

    So if new leaders are to emerge and take up their rightful positions at the head of our most important companies and institutions, the lead is going to have to come from them. This won’t happen if they continue to view the leadership model of the past and present as the leadership model of the future.

    What’s required is a fundamental shift in the way we think about leadership and leaders.

    When we believe “we’re not cut out to be a leader”, we’re basing that on an outdated and inappropriate image of leadership. We are assuming that there is a template we have to mold our self to. The leadership competencies we have accepted may no longer be appropriate.

    The problems of today won’t be solved by the solutions of the past. So let’s stop expecting the leaders who are passed their sell-by date to get us out of today’s fix.

    • Dr. Jon WarnerDecember 16, 2012 at 9:50 pmAuthor

      Thanks for the long and interesting as well as very well presented post Tim. I think you make a number of valid points which you might like to work into a guest article on this blog if you are interested. Your post in general reminds me of the Machiavelli quotation “don’t rely on the old order to bring in the new” -a sobering thought for our leadership development efforts.

About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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