There is no doubt that the field of leadership development has made great strides over the past 50 years. It has moved from formats based primarily in lectures and slide shows in classrooms to those with a foundation of small group dialogues and experiential activities, which allow participants to learn key lessons by decoding their own experiences. It is not unusual that these experiential activities are conducted outside the classroom itself. In some cases, they are even done back on the job in-between cohort sessions, in which case they are often referred to as action learning events.
There is also good evidence that the level of authentic learning has increased dramatically through the use of these techniques as well as others. We see this through the collection of Kirkpatrick Level 1 and 2 data at the completion of training sessions, as well as through “testing” in the classroom itself. Testing in this case refers to situations participants are placed in to demonstrate their level of learning. This can take many forms, including using the learned skills with another participant who is role-playing a person back on the job, contests where table groups compete to come up with the right answers, and skits in which critical learning points are demonstrated.
And yet despite all the strides the field of leadership development has made in the arena of creating learning around effective leadership techniques and strategies, we still lack any evidence that the rate of learning transfer back to the job on a sustained basis has increased since the days of primarily lecture format. I am using the term sustained transfer to indicate evidence that the transfer of leadership learning was used back on the job for a year or more. Less than that indicates the person was involved, but not committed to using what they learned. So how can it be that leadership development efforts are successfully increasing people’s knowledge of leadership, but not translating that success into consistent use back on the job on a broad-scale basis?
To better understand this situation, let’s make a distinction between two types of leader development outcomes.
Type I leader development is traditionally focused on helping leaders to be successful by learning actions they can take back on the job. As such, it primarily teaches the correct use of leadership behavioral skills and competencies as the basis for action, such as team building, conflict resolution, resilience, problem solving, negotiation, coaching, and brainstorming.
Type I programs have been developed to quickly result in higher levels of leader capability and skill. However, they are not designed to provide confidence in the use of skills when contextual factors—a nonsupportive boss, an uncooperative employee, a nonsupportive culture—are seen as having potential to result in high levels of negative consequences.
Type II leader development is focused on helping leaders be successful by using what they have learned. As such, it primarily teaches the effective use of cognitive skills and competencies to adapt to contextual factors, like regulating emotions and thoughts, verifying perspective accuracy, and detecting perspective breakdowns.
Type II programs have been developed to result in an increase in a leader’s effectiveness to resolve and manage a wider range of leadership challenges by selecting the best perspective and choice to apply in a given situation.
Traditionally, Type II leader development has been approached through such venues as executive coaching and mentoring, where a more experienced person or coach helps guide the leader to finding a more adaptive perspective and choice to use. Here at the Federal Consulting Group (FCG), which is part of the Department of the Interior, we have been providing agencies with executive coaches for more than 12 years. And in so doing, we have helped leaders increase their leader effectiveness back on the job. In addition, FCG now offers Type II leader development training programs that are designed to directly teach leaders the cognitive skills needed for perspective and choice management under conditions of stress or anxiety. Three pilots conducted by FCG in 2015 validated that increasing cognitive skill development, with no additional training in behavioral skills, did result in reported increases of leader effectiveness for federal leaders facing highly difficult and stressful leadership challenges.
Our experience has taught us that Type I leader development is necessary, but not sufficient to maximize levels of leader effectiveness. Type I builds your toolbox of potential actions to take, but does not guarantee you will make the choice to use the best tool. To make the best choice, you must factor in the contextual features of the situation, such as the specific people involved, potential level of consequences, timeframes, and resources available. Those factors lead us to form our perspective to understand a situation and how best to approach it. That is the domain of Type II leader development. It is hoped that in the future more leader development groups will explore the use of Type II programs as a complement to their well-established Type I programs.