Leadership Development: Getting the Most from a Class

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Leadership is an apprentice trade. You'll learn most of it on the job.

When you take a class it should have a direct impact on what you do on the job. Anything else, and you have to hope you remember what you learned when it comes time to apply it.

Start by choosing class or program that will have the most impact for you. Consider what you do today and where you need to improve. Consider what you will need to move to the next level.

Investigate. Talk to people who've taken the program. What did they learn? Ask to see detailed course outlines and learning objectives.

Find out who will be teaching the program. The course might be great, but a lousy instructor can bore a hole in the bottom of your ship of learning.

Favor programs that include pre- and post-evaluations of your ability. Favor programs that offer follow-up support. The tough part is getting the learning from classroom to workplace.

Dan McCarthy is a leadership development expert whose work I admire. I asked him for advice on getting the most out of a leadership development training program. Since there's no way I can improve on his thoughts, here they are verbatim.

"Soak it up, do your assignments, your pre-work. Involve your manager. Share the course outline, and set learning goals together. During the program, be an active participant. Show up, both physically and emotionally. Take advantage of the networking opportunities - don't get lost in your iPhone on breaks. Take lots of notes, and create an action plan. After the program, debrief with your manager. Check back over your notes and action plan on a regular basis."

You'll get the most from a program if you follow Dan's advice. Here are a couple of more ideas.

Don't leave the debriefing to chance. Before you leave, make the debriefing appointment with your boss.

Draw up your action plan before you return to work. You'll probably return to an in-box that needs sideboards and an email queue that stretches to the edge of the solar system. Don't let busyness drive out important learning.

Remember this. Marshall Goldsmith and Howard Morgan studied the progress of 88,000 managers who had been to leadership development training. The people who returned from the training, talked about it, and did deliberate work to apply their learning were judged as becoming more effective leaders. The ones who didn't showed no improvement.

Which one will you be?

Boss's Bottom Line

You'll get the most from leadership training if you do the following

  • Choose a program that will have direct impact on your development.
  • Choose a program that will deliver on its promise.
  • Milk the program for maximum value.
  • Put what you learn to work right away

Check out the following related posts

Becoming a Great Leader is Up to You

Leadership Development: Big Company Programs and You

Leadership Development: Crafting Your Personal Development Plan

Leadership Development: When to hire a coach

Leadership Development: How to hire a coach

The Perfect Leadership Book for You

Wally's Working Supervisor's Support Kit is a collection of information and tools to help working supervisors do a better job. It's based on what Wally's learned in over twenty years of supervisory skills training. Click here to check it out.



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  • 1/12/2010 8:55 AM Gina Abudi wrote:
    Well said. Any program that does not enable you to return to the job and apply what you learn is not worth attending. Any program must be hands-on, practical - geared toward adult learners. If the program does not offer Action Planning, develop your own action plan on how you will apply what you just learned.

    I enjoyed the post!

    Best, Gina
    Reply to this
    1. 1/12/2010 9:29 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks, Gina. What I really liked about Dan's suggestion was the rooted in the ideas that it's up to you to get value from a program and that you can't count on the program to help with the action plan.


      When I've helped clients choose a course to attend, I've rarely found one that listed "Action Plan" as one of the intended outcomes. When I've talked to trainers and asked if they help participants create an action plan, I seem to get one of two  responses.


      Some say, "Of course! Why would you even ask that." Others say, "Huh?"

      Reply to this
  • 1/14/2010 2:00 PM Jackie Cameron wrote:
    Once again - inspiring stuff!
    I spent yesterday with managers on a different programme than the one mentioned in the previous post. The energy in the room as they arrived was great and continued during the day. Why? Well I asked them to feedback on what was good about the programme so far, what was difficult and what suggestions they had for changing it.
    Amongst the "goods" was the time for networking - sharing the learning experience with each other.

    As with the other programme these students are challenged make plans, put them into action and then write a reflective report on the application of their learning in class to the real world of work and I am sure that experience will be very good for the students and very interesting for the markers!
    Reply to this
    1. 1/14/2010 3:16 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks, Jackie. The mention of "networking time" resonates with me because it's something some participants really value. I'm one of them. When I go to a conference, I spend most of my time connecting with others, out in the halls and lobby bar, not in the conference rooms. But, as Dan's comment notes, some people don't seem to realize that the connections you can make at a company-wide or industry-wide training can be the most valuable outcome of the experience.

      Reply to this
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