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Leadership development is a big investment for any organization — one that’s only worthwhile if there is a substantial return. As a result, many organizations strive to measure learning lift and ROI from the programs they run, with emphasis placed on measuring new skills and insights.

However, the true value of effective leadership development programs is actually unexpected. The greatest ROI from many programs comes from the shared experience: the group dynamic that enables four critical outcomes:

1) Leaders leave the session with expanded networks. Participants build relationships and broaden the mix of peers across functions and organizational boundaries to whom they can turn with problems and ideas. An effective leadership development program ensures that participants spend as much, if not more, time working and talking with each other as listening to a facilitator or brilliant outside academic.

2) Leaders are reminded of the shared vocabulary and culture of their organization. Senior leaders set the tone for their teams and organizations; they are pivotal to ensuring the common fabric across a dispersed corporate structure. The language and words they use create connections and consistency in the organization. Effective leadership programs reiterate and remind leaders at all levels of that shared language, whether it is leadership principles or operating tenets.

3) Leaders take away good practice ideas that are actionable because they come from each other. Good practices for how to manage their business or work across teams can be both universal and also organizationally specific. The more specific ideas are, the more readily a leader can take them and apply them in their role.

4) Leaders shift their mental models—either about the business or themselves. Leaders make critical, strategic decisions framed by how they see the world. Often leaders’ mental models are reinforced by their teams and their experience, because they seek data that confirms what they know. Effective leadership development programs uncover mental models in a way that helps a leader reset and rethink.

Leadership development is not about the tools or the models or the academics. Effective leadership development provides actionable insight. It provides ideas that affect leaders’ behaviors and interactions and drive different business results. A good learning program should design for those actionable outcomes, not hope they happen by coincidence.

What can you do to design for these unexpected results? How can you design for highly effective leadership development programs? Here are a few tips from our experience:

1) Ensure the topics are relevant. Listen to your participant customers and frame a program that lets them talk about the topics and challenges they regularly face.

2) Get the right mix in the room. Pay attention to whom you enroll in the sessions and ensure a blend that will benefit each individual.

3) Reinforce what works in your organization. Ensure that the content is illustrated with stories and insights from your world, even if it brings in the perspectives of other fields and cases.

4) Let people experience. The more people practice and work with each other, the stickier ideas become. Business simulations create an opportunity not only to learn but to build relationships as well.

5) Give participants time to reflect. Humans don’t learn from experience; we learn by reflecting on the experience. In the pace of today’s workplace, the space to think is a rare and precious asset. For any learning experience to be highly effective, leaders need the opportunity to be thoughtful about their insights and how those actionable ideas can be put into practice.

Highly effective leadership development is an investment worth making and measuring, as long as you are considering all the potential results, both expected and unexpected.

 

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