By Sam Robinson
Running a leadership program is easy. Running a good one? That’s more difficult. In this article, I’m raising two more critical issues that need to be resolved for an effective leadership program. In Leadership Programs that Get Results (Part 1) I discussed the importance of:
- Defining a clear, unambiguous, and inspiring purpose of the program
- Getting the leaders of participants involved in the program
The above you need to have nailed before the start of the program. The following critical issues are things that – if not resolved – can result in a program going off track quickly, even after a good start.
What if the facilitators aren’t credible?
This was a major source of personal anxiety when I first started facilitating leadership programs. Will they think I know what I’m talking about? Why do I feel like an imposter? Will the audience see through me? Unless you have an ego the size of a continent, you will have had these emotions too at some point. But credibility isn’t having a lack of anxiety or nervousness. I think it’s more about being genuine. Credibility is having the personal stories to illustrate the theory. It’s being respectful of your audience’s stories too. It’s being able to create stories with your participants and the work they are doing then and there. It’s being prepared to be flexible, to call a break early if needed, to plough on if needed, to challenge and to step back – and knowing the right time to do each. Just like being a good leader is not “more of the same” technical work, being a good facilitator is a distinct role – experience on its own is not enough.
What if it’s boring? How to create an engaging experience?
I’m very lucky now in that I have a lot of choice over the training, events, and workshops I go to. But when I worked in previous organisations, I was “volunteered” for a lot of training. Some of it was actually pretty good. Additionally, I learnt a lot from poor training that left me feeling empty and no closer to becoming better at anything. In my view “poor” training often lacks one or more of these elements:
- Passion: the facilitator doesn’t really seem to want to be there. One the other hand, great training has a passionate facilitator who loves what they do. I think this is essential. People can tell if you are not really into your work
- Coherence: what I mean here is, the whole design of a poor program seems like a bucket of activities, assessments, slides, books, posters and other “stuff”. But it’s not really leading anywhere. On the other hand, a well-designed program is coherent – it fits together and makes sense (but it’s not always obvious how it fits together – that would be boring wouldn’t it?!)
- Productive tension: tension is essential in a program, but it needs to be high quality. Being a bully is certainly not on. Neither is shouting at people. Or tricking anyone. It sounds obvious, but some leadership facilitators think creating an environment of fear and mistrust is a synonym for “challenging”. Instead, people need to feel tension, but also be able to resolve the tension and succeed using their colleagues, their team, the toolkit they get from the program, and support from their manager
We use these principles in our programs to keep them on track and have a genuine impact on organisations and individuals.