As the world becomes increasingly complex and unpredictable, global organizations typically respond by expanding their playbooks—they add new competencies, codify new processes, and train their leaders how to respond to new situations. In short, they try to define and teach the knowledge necessary for their people to succeed in every conceivable situation.
This approach to developing and supporting leaders is unsustainable and ineffective in our unprecedented age of uncertainty. Today, business success depends on leaders who know how to understand the strategic landscape and how to collaborate to drive change. These abilities, which require people to learn “how to think,” typically take years of experience and failure to develop.
But companies cannot afford to wait as market disruption happens almost continually. Instead, corporate leadership development should be centered around highly contextualized experiential learning that compresses the time it takes for learners to acquire “how to think” skills – the skills necessary to adapt the way we collaborate, make decisions, and solve problems in the face of uncertainty.
There is a strong trend in the learning and development training space to make knowledge-level content more interesting and provide it when and where learners need it. Companies are flocking to purchase learning experience platforms to personalize training and professional development and make the LMS-based learning experience less woeful. The strategy is to curate content and steer participants to what they will actually find useful, and there is a major need for this. Knowledge-level learning is essential for the efficiency of every major organization. But this entire category of investment fails to address a fundamental lack of quality learning that can actually improve “how to think” skills.
Developing high quality and effective corporate leadership development that improves learners’ ability to think strategically and collaborate to solve problems requires learning that is:
- Experiential – It must give participants the opportunity to practice a range of skills and strategies and it must respond to specific decisions they make to give them agency in their learning
- Immersive – It must pull participants into a state of flow where they are cognitively immersed in the learning
- Relevant – It must be applicable to the challenges the learner faces, or will face, in their daily professional role
- Empathetic – It must account for, in an honest and authentic way, the personal and systemic roadblocks that likely interfere with the learner’s performance in the real world
Our organization, The Regis Company, has spent over a decade working to create corporate leadership development that scores high in each of these categories for every level of audience, from the emerging leader to the senior executive level. There are only so many shortcuts organizations can take while still developing leaders effectively, but using the right design methodology and innovative tools can allow programs that develop “how to think skills” to be built quickly and cost-effectively, and be scalable to a large global audience.
Mike Kester is co-president and managing director of The Regis Company. He serves as the program executive for commercial engagements related to global strategic change, operations transformations, mergers and acquisitions, and major growth efforts. Michael has been involved in strategic initiatives at dynamic companies such as Abbott Laboratories,