Develop Opportunity with a Focus on Mid-Level Leadership

How an expertly facilitated leader development program can build your organization’s competitive advantage.

by Susan Franzen, M.Sc.

Small group collaborates using a shared desktop workspace

Organizations that focus their most seasoned leaders are missing an opportunity to evolve the skills of informal and emerging leaders within their organizations.  Developing internal leader capability across the organization is a proven way to ensure the organization sustains its competitive advantage, organizational culture is intentionally directed, and employees or faculty with a desire to lead see clear paths to shift their mindsets, grow their skills, and advance their careers.

Leader development is not just for high potentials – it’s about discovering those who are motivated to lead.  Without a comprehensive and rigorous leader development program, an organization may be missing those hidden gems that have the talent and desire to lead the organization into the future.  That’s why it’s important for internal leaders to be involved in developing future leaders.

A successful leader development program starts with defining measurable outcomes that align with business goals and strategic initiatives, integrates learning sciences for maximum learning and retention and curates content from leading researchers and practitioners.  Facilitation (not training) is a critical pathway that surfaces the wisdom of the group and links theory with effective practice.   

Measurable Outcomes

Focus on a few specific competencies rather than expecting leaders to navigate a complex web of competencies.  Engaging in a program outcomes mapping process helps to identify desired results and determine program design components needed to achieve those results.  Measuring outcomes can quickly become time consuming and overwhelming so an outcomes mapping process needs to include sustainable methods for measuring the learning impact.

Learning Sciences

Learning occurs when certain conditions are met, like relevance, context, or effort.  Designing and applying a variety of approaches such as spaced learning (aids in anchoring new knowledge or skills for greater retention) and blended learning (integrates learning modalities like in-person, virtual, online, self-paced, or adding coaching sessions) helps to ensure those conditions are met.

Additionally, Social Learning occurs when leaders learn through observation, imitation, or modeling, like medical residency programs using “see one, do one, teach one,” and Action Learning is a dynamic process for solving organizational problems, building teams, and developing leaders.  There is an art to incorporating the right blend of learning sciences to achieve specific organizational outcomes.

Curated Content

There are multiple styles and approaches to effective leadership and leader development should not adopt a “one-size fits all” approach.  Leaders need to learn how to lead within their current environment as well as how to adapt their skills to new environments.  Rather than promoting any one specific model, consider curating and integrating the best of the best models into the program content.

The best leader development programs provide a basis from which tailored sessions and focus on the context in which leaders are currently leading while remaining flexible in addressing how to lead through rapidly changing environments.  Learning materials should not be content-heavy so the facilitator can artfully adapt content as needed for deeper learner engagement. 

Cultivated Network of Facilitators

What’s the difference between a trainer and a facilitator?  A “trainer” is someone who learns how to lead a specific program and follows a specific process or script to enhance learning.  A “facilitator” blends art and science in meeting learners where they are, understanding where they need to go, and leveraging a variety of learning sciences, proven models, and real-world leadership experience to deepen the value for the learner.  Seek facilitators with a philosophy of Socratic facilitation blended with their unique style and experiences. 

While it may be tempting to completely internalize a leader development program, there is significant value in strategic partnerships that bring all these components together.

Leader Development Enabled by AXIOM's Unique Capabilities

Led by industry veteran Herb Blanchard, AXIOM is a leading learning and development services company with deep experience in learning solutions for both technical training (the skills required to effectively work in a specific role) and human skills development (the skills required to advance leadership in organizations).  With the launch of Curated Leadership Programs, AXIOM continues to help shape the future of learning and development directly for a wide array of business, government, non-profit and higher education clients and AXIOM strategic partners, including firms like Accenture, PwC, McKinsey, and others.

“Curated Leadership Programs help clients navigate the complex landscape of leader development.  Our learning teams invest the time to understand the client’s need and match it with a curated solution that’s based on relevant learning sciences and facilitated by experts,” Blanchard said. “It creates an exceptional and transformative opportunity for leader development.”

Susan Franzen is vice president of strategy and leadership at AXIOM Learning Solutions and the founder and president of PatternShifts, LLC. She works with client organizations to define and clarify organizational strategy, align learning initiatives to strategy, and evaluate program effectiveness.

Learn more about AXIOM leader development solutions

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