Real-Life Leadership Development: Are You Ready To Jump In?

Effective leadership development can lead to better business outcomes—and yet, only 25% of all organizations know how to do it.

Effective leadership development can lead to better business outcomes—and yet, only 25% of all organizations know how to do it. Both CEOs and CHROs should be concerned about it: compared to highly mature companies, less mature organizations reported 37% lower revenue per employee and 9% lower gross profit margin. What is the problem with creating better leadership programs, and how to solve for it?

Most L&D practitioners believe in the idea of traditional instructor-led, classroom-based training events, when instead, they should be thinking about real-life, experiential leadership development. Overcoming the gap between staged leadership development and the realistic leadership experience is important, but tricky and more and more solution providers specialize in this aspect. Some mimic unfamiliar, turbulent, chaotic and fast-changing realities, and help participants acquire capabilities to withstand and lead through them. The twist: rather than simulating an everyday corporate environment, leaders find themselves in extremely unfamiliar territories.

For example, LeaderSurf offers a diverse learning community in an exotic surrounding (Playa Santana, Nicaragua) and builds leadership capability while teaching participants how to – yes, surf! Besides surf and leadership lessons, participants take part in humanitarian community projects, take assessments, get coached and solve business challenges.

Survival Systems USA, on the other hand, uses in-water survival exercises to help build and enhance leadership skills and team dynamics. In practical exercises such as life raft evacuation, underwater egress, or surface water survival, participants learn how to improve their stress awareness, build self-confidence in a replicated work environment, assume leadership roles, and enhance emotional control.

“experiential leadership learning takes participants out of their comfort zones, while enabling them to acquire capabilities to withstand and lead through unexpected and challenging situations.”

Practicing leadership skills with horses is the focus of TeachingHorse. While learning to find ways to connect and work with horses, participants learn about the principle of shared leadership as demonstrated by a herd of horses, as well as verbal and non-verbal communication styles.

In comparison, the Immersion Lab enables leaders to gain an external perspective through custom designed, brokered learning exchanges with external thought leaders. In a series of orchestrated meetings, participants discuss specific topics affecting their business, witness “retail safaris” (watching customer purchases), visit hospitals (watching surgeons at work), or hold discussions with recent university graduates (helping to understand Millennials).

The Gronstedt Group takes a tech approach to leadership development. Using a 3-D immersive gaming approach, participants become part of a gaming story, whereby they receive a mission and are thrown straight into action. Immediate performance feedback such as customer feedback, or social media feeds enables real-time learning in a virtual environment supported by the newest technologies such as simulations and games, virtual and augmented reality tools, 360-videos or video storytelling.

Individuals’ well-being, mental resilience and restoration TLEX’s focus. Taking place in calming and serene locations around the world, leaders learn to improve resilience, and gain clarity and focus. Participants acquire ways to use empirically validated breathing techniques to help them switch into a parasympathetic state, enabling greater flexibility and agility in taking on challenges and learning.

Only 25% of all organizations know how to design effective leadership development so that it supports their business strategy. While real-life, experiential leadership development approaches have shown to lead to better outcomes, most companies are still stuck with traditional programs featuring (sometimes-uninspiring) instructor-led, classroom-based training events.

Making the jump from managing staged leadership training programs to designing experiential leadership learning experiences can be hard for organizations. Nowadays, more and more solution providers specialize on this aspect; some offer extraordinary learning events by simulating turbulent, chaotic, and fast-changing realities. But, rather than simulating corporate environments, participants find themselves in extremely unfamiliar territories such as surfing beaches, swimming pools, horse farms, foreign countries, spa-like retreats or—virtual realities.

The point: Rather than placing leaders into a classroom environment where they listen and study leadership principles, these providers offer experiential leadership learning that takes participants completely out of their comfort zones, while enabling them to acquire capabilities to withstand and lead through unexpected and challenging situations.


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