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Posted by on Jun 4, 2014

Stop Feeling Overwhelmed! Three Questions You Should Ask When Weighing Leadership Development Options

OverwhelmedThe most successful leaders know that you can never stop learning and should continually invest in your professional development. That’s easier said than done these days because there are more options than ever for leadership development and professional services like leadership coaching. While the leadership development landscape was once dominated by commercial providers (ahem, Management Concepts), both public and private universities are furiously entering the leadership development market. The good news is you have a lot of high-quality choices and the providers are working hard to earn your business. The bad news is you have a lot of high-quality choices and the providers are working hard to earn your business.

So, how’s an individual or a leader in search of options for his or her employees to decide the best route to take?

Step 1: Stop stressing.

Step 2: Ask yourself three simple yet critical questions:

  1. Considering where you are today, what do you or your team need to rev up your performance?
  2. How much say do you want in designing your learning experiences?
  3. What is/are your preferred learning style(s)?  

Determine your needs help

Yes, this is a big question and it might take some time and effort to peel back the onion, but determining what specific skills you or those you lead need to perform more effectively is the central question to answer.

Seek feedback from a variety of sources, including the intended participants, and gather ideas from colleagues and learning development professionals. We all have trouble seeing our blind spots and you need to understand the full picture to make informed decisions.

Don’t worry if the picture is still somewhat unclear after a bit of thinking, too. This might be one indication that you should consider a tool like a 360-degree assessment to determine where to focus your energy.

Once you’ve zeroed in on the skills you need to target, do your due diligence and find the providers with explicit expertise in those areas. Be sure to cast a wide net and consider both commercial providers—small and large—as well as either local or well-known universities. As I mentioned, many people are looking for your business!

Each type of provider has its merits, and you’ll need to determine who is the best match not only in terms of expertise, but also who will be able to engender trust and encourage you or others to fully engage in the process.

Structured programs vs. flexible options

With so many options out there, another way to help narrow down the possibilities is to decide how much say you want to have in designing your learning experience.  Some providers specialize in providing a small number of prescribed certificate and/or degree programs, whereas others take a more consultative approach and work with you to design and develop programs around your specific aims.

Both approaches are equally likely to succeed in the right circumstances, but the program aims must be in line with your needs. Depending on the list of skills you need to target, it may be easy to match up your needs with a highly structured program or it may leave you feeling like only a portion of the focus is relevant to you.

Your budget also comes into play at this point. For those of you Federal leaders out there whose travel budgets are drying up and your training budgets are significantly reduced from years past, you must have a clear idea of the funding you’ll have to support your desired program.  

More than one way to learn

Decades of scholarly research has proven that we all have learning preferences. It has also shown that knowing your preferences and playing to them significantly enhances our ability to apply learning in real world situations. For this reason, it’s important to consider the type of learning experience you are seeking early in your shopping. 

Ask yourself: Do you prefer to learn alongside others or alone? Do you thrive in a classroom environment or prefer to log-in from your couch after hours?

Programs today range from online to residential and include learning experiences that range from asynchronous to immersive and experiential. More and more frequently, providers are blending learning options so that you get a mix of experiences that creates a richer overall experience for participants.

Sure, as you work through these three questions, other important considerations will certainly surface that you shouldn’t ignore, but these will get you well on your way towards a solution that can make a real difference in how you or others operate as leaders.

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