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Want Effective Leadership Development? It’s All About Context

Nobody likes to waste time – especially leaders. But it’s all too common that leaders walk away from a development session calling it a waste of time. Most likely, they didn’t see how it was relevant to their job.
But how do you provide leaders with development that is time well spent, not wasted?
It’s all about context – it’s the most important factor to be considered when putting together a leadership development program.

Three Types of Context
The three types of context to consider are self, role, and business.
Self is a leader’s personal context. What are the attributes, preferences, and experiences that might shape their impact as a leader? How do you help them to make sense of these in a variety of leadership situations and challenges? These things affect their perception of learning.

Second is the context of the role itself. What are you asking your leaders to do on a day-to-day basis? How will learning and development affect their everyday work? How will success in the role be judged?

And last is the context of the business. This relates to things as broad as industry developments and trends. And it also relates to more specific things like the business priorities, culture, and tactics. But for your learning and development strategy to be relevant, you must consider all three contexts in your approach.

Addressing Context in Leadership Development
Because these different contexts exist together, you’ll also need to be ready with a learning and development strategy that can support several leadership development scenarios.
Here are a couple scenarios that should be considered in a comprehensive leadership development strategy.

1. Development That’s “Just in Time” and “Just for Me”
Leaders need information, knowledge, or guidance "just in time" to do their jobs or complete a task. And this make sense. You should strive to give leaders learning right when they need it. But we also know leaders don't have a lot of time to browse through a huge library of content to find what they need. Give leaders access to only the learning they need.
Along with learning that’s available when they need it, leaders also want their learning to be “just for me.”
Enter the idea of personalized learning. But for this type of development to be effective, it depends on two things: recognizing the uniqueness of leaders and anchoring it within your business context. Those unique needs can be targeted with data from leadership assessments.

2. An Environment That Celebrates Genuine Interest and Curiosity
A desire to learn is often sparked by curiosity for a subject matter or area of practice. It may not be grounded in any specific leadership need, but it often helps to build overall knowledge and skills.
Create a psychologically safe environment for your leaders. Doing this sparks innovation and makes failing okay, because learning is happening along the way. This is another way to make learning celebrated.

The Bottom Line
When it comes to your learning and development strategy for leaders, context matters. And keeping these five scenarios top of mind is a great way to also keep context top of mind, and to give your leaders what they need most to learn. Because without context, your leadership development program won’t be nearly as effective as it could be.
For more information, including additional types of context to encourage development, visit DDI’s blog.

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