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Creating Purposeful Leadership Development Training Programs

By Mike Vaughan - February 07, 2019

As professionals in the instructional design community, we often pride ourselves on being at the forefront of learning innovation. But even experts can fall prey into the familiar safety net of “teach to the objective” approaches.

There are many shiny objects available to corporate development training companies to infuse their programs with from a wide array of technologies (i.e.: gifting, virtual goods, virtual reality) to gamification (i.e.: badges, leaderboards). While these techniques have improved program completion rates, the overall result is still that learners aren’t fully applying this knowledge in a meaningful way. Meaning, we’re only achieving half of our objective.

Even as an executive leadership development company, our team found ourselves falling into the same captivating trap of infusing these enticing tools in our programs wrapped in the comfort that these tried and true principles were the backbone of traditional design.

Despite building the first technology-enabled, web-based business simulation platform that was optimized for developing forward-thinking leaders, this approach still resulted in the same problem — people knew a lot but could do little. We realized that we needed to significantly shift our own way of thinking regarding the true purpose of leadership training.

The team came to this conclusion: The best leadership development training programs force their learners to stop and think, re-evaluate their way of thinking, and reach their own conclusions about how to modify their personal thinking or behavior.

Seems obvious, right? It’s actually surprising how few corporate development training programs really challenge their participants to stop and think. Even fewer leadership training programs get people to think about their actual way of thinking and evolve them forward. As learning professionals, we often get caught in the difficult position of trying to convey the right information that address learning objectives rather than how to learn to think about problems in a different way. Bottom line: programs tend to be course-centric rather than brain-centric.

So what does brain-centric really mean? Brain-centric designed learning and development programs place students in the middle of evolving situations and allows them to work outward in spirals that reflect learning by generating their own insights as a result of trial and error. In leveraging simulation training-based approaches, teams are able to foster the approach of moving between real-world situations and foundational learning. Why is this important? This approach engages the learner in a way that allows them to move from states of clarity to valleys of uncertainty. It’s through this transition that program participants can recognize their limiting beliefs, correct flawed thinking, and realize the benefits of experiential learning.

Our challenge to other corporate leadership training programs is to review your own programs to ensure that you’re blending new design approaches with the tried and true methods that focus on teaching your leaders how to be critical thinkers.

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