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Professional Partner Content

The Pitfalls of DIY Leadership Development

By Bruce Court

There’s nothing like the buzz of energy at the start line of a marathon as thousands of eager runners prepare to show that all the blood, sweat, and tears from months of training have been worth it.

As I watched the London Marathon earlier this year, I thought back to this moment in my first marathon. Initially, I had started running just to get in shape. But then my competitive spirit kicked in, and I started entering events, including the London Marathon. I thought I was doing well, my results improved, and I was losing weight. I trained on my own and thought I had the formula figured out to be successful in my first marathon. While I started out strong, it turned out I wasn’t as well prepared as I’d thought. But I knew I could get better, so I decided to change my training approach, no longer trying to do it on my own.

One year later I ran the London Marathon again, finishing almost an hour faster than the previous year and with no pain. I enjoyed running the marathon and felt a sense of achievement as I received my medal.

The experience reminded me of a similar approach I’ve seen with leadership development. Learning professionals often start off feeling optimistic that they can do everything on their own and have a strong vision of building a brand new program from the ground up.

But time, money, and resources get in the way, and the project becomes overwhelming. Leaders don’t end up getting what they need and end up feeling like I did at the end of that first marathon, achieving only a fraction of their full potential and with plenty of pain along with way.

To ensure leaders get the maximum return on the time and resources being used for their development, there are some “essential” elements that need to be in place to enable and ensure each leader reaches his or her full potential.

What Leaders Want Versus What They Get

The modern learner’s needs and expectations differ from learners of the past. The 2018 Global Leadership Forecast reported what leaders want and how much they are getting from 19 different learning methods.

The reality is what leaders are given is different from what they want. As a result, they gravitate to what they want, which may not be what they need, or they simply give up as they lose the motivation to continue.

Once development tools are chosen and made available to learners, an important next step is to ensure each learner identifies and understands his or her learning preferences. These learning preferences provide a guide, suggesting how a leader likes to learn. DDI suggests four learning preferences:

  1. Thinking Alone. The learner prefers to study, observe, and plan before undertaking a new activity.
  2. Thinking With Others. The learner prefers to get others’ ideas before trying new behaviors.
  3. Acting Alone: The learner prefers to plunge into a new activity independently rather than studying in advance.
  4. Acting with Others: The learner prefers to act on rather than contemplate learning new things but relies on others for feedback and advice or to be role models.

Knowing learners favor one of these four preferences enables organizations to provide a range of options to accommodate the four styles. One approach will not be able to meet the styles of all the learners.

When learners know and understand their preferred learning style, they can identify and leverage the activities that will enable them to accomplish their development goals, resulting in greater workplace retention.

They’ll also apply what they have learned, so goals will be met in a shorter period of time, thereby increasing the return on the time and money being invested in development.

To learn more about the building blocks that need to be included in every program – DIY or not – check out my full blog post.

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