How to Make Leadership Development Lessons Last

See Do Get in a circle with arrows going clockwise

You attended the leadership development training. You got the workbook and the pen, maybe even a nice handout. You made the to-do list.

You gained valuable insights that can be used to transform your team and its working relationships, to increase its capacity, and to revolutionize its ability to get things done.

How do you make sure this motivation lasts long after you’re back in the office and in your regular routine? How do you switch from managing on autopilot, doing the things you’ve always done, to putting leadership lessons you learned into action?

And, if you trained as a team or as an organization, how do you ensure everyone’s ready to move forward with the lessons you learned together?

  1. Commit yourself anew to the lessons you’ve learned.

    Immanuel Kant wrote, “Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play.”

    Lessons are worthless in a vacuum. When the training ends, that’s where your role as the leader of your team or organization ramps up.

    As a leader, you’re responsible for translating the lessons learned in leadership development training into something concrete for your team members. How do you tie these lessons to goals that make sense for the team or for the organization?

    Approach this with a See → Do → Get mentality.
    •   Envision the ideal outcome for long-term success (what you want to GET).
    •   Evaluate the barriers in your path. SEEing the situation from a different perspective or analyzing the experiences of others may shape your outcomes or help you around barriers you’ve encountered.
    •   Determine the efforts (what you need to DO) required to create a different outcome. What action or mindset shift might be required to make a meaningful change?

  2. Adapt your leadership development lessons to the people you are leading.

    If your people don’t feel that they are being seen, heard, and valued, the changes you make won’t stick. A thoughtful evaluation of your personal leadership style can help you determine where changes are required to make a positive impact on the team you’re leading.

    Adapting your efforts requires a high level of self-awareness and humility so you can understand and make changes within yourself. If you revisit the lessons from your leadership development training or consider one-on-one conversations with an executive coach, you may be able to effect stronger shifts in your mindset and interactions.

    Once you have a grasp on your own opportunities for improvement, open the door for clear communication and candid conversation with your team members. Are they overworked and overwhelmed?

    If they’ve been through the wringer during this past stressful year, they may have a natural inclination to resist additional change. Or, they may be drained of mental and emotional energy and incapable of making further shifts without time for renewal.

    People are more likely to be open to change if you recognize their humanity and invest in their well-being before requiring them to upend their standard ways of doing business.

  3. Let people know what’s in it for them.

    If you want lessons from a leadership development workshop to make a lasting impact in the workplace, be clear on the goals you hope to achieve and on the benefits your organization will gain through a transformation of your leadership culture.

    Every decision we make as humans – whether in the workplace or in our personal lives – has a goal and a desired outcome.

    To make lessons last, connect a meaningful goal to their implementation.

    How can you set the right goals? The most effective goals are realistic and benefit the individual as well as the organization.

    If you’re looking for a physical example, look no further than open plan offices. They’re designed to meet the organizational goals of collaboration, space-saving, and increased productivity. At what cost? Research has found that this office style leads to decreased employee wellbeing and morale and that degradation leads to a reduction in long-term productivity.

    The lesson learned here? No matter how appealing an idea is, unless it makes sense for the people you work with and meaningfully improves their lives, it won’t be successful.

  4. Realize that change doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

    You can attend a training and leave inspired and ready to move mountains. However, when you get back to the office, does an immediate shift take place?

    You may find instead that your team quickly sinks back into its old habits, or that people within your organization seem hesitant about (or even aggressive toward) the potential for making lasting changes to the ways they work together and lead.

    Science shows us there are real impacts that happen to the brain when people are faced with change. The introduction of contradictory information activates fear triggers in the brain, which can make it hard to adopt a new concept or approach.

    And, once an idea is set in our minds, it can become even more difficult to switch gears. The longer we’ve been doing something, the more likely it is to make a shift difficult.

    If there’s a gap in alignment between what you’re learning in theory and what you or your team are doing in practice, how will you start bringing those two areas closer? These gaps are costly and require the necessary psychological safety to bring them to the surface.

    Who will be courageous enough to call that out?

    The lessons you learn during leadership development training can be used to take an honest look at your communication skills, the culture of your organization and the climate of your team.

  5. Refresh frequently.

    Hearing a lesson once isn’t enough. Have you read the statistic that it takes 21 days to form a habit? Some research indicates the time frame may stretch longer and that fully cementing a habit can take up to 66 days.

    When it comes to your leadership lessons, the same long-term criteria apply. It takes time, conscious thought, self-awareness, and effort to shift behaviors you’ve learned throughout your career and seen modeled by other leaders.

    It takes time, conscious thought, self-awareness, and effort to shift behaviors you’ve learned throughout your career and seen modeled by other leaders.

    If you struggle with making the necessary shifts, remind yourself of the changes you want to see and the benefits you’re anticipating. Looking at the long-term outcome can lead to frustration unless you set goals along the way and recognize the incremental success you achieve.

    It can be beneficial to partner with an executive coach as a means of keeping yourself accountable for the changes you want to make. And, participating in a long-term leadership development program can also be a good avenue for strengthening your commitment to change.

  6. Grow trust as you make changes.

    In addition to using a coach to keep yourself accountable, you can also rely on a group of people who will benefit most from positive changes in your leadership: your team members. Letting your employees and colleagues know what you want to achieve can benefit you both and may even unlock additional simple opportunities for you to show your dedication to change.

    As an example, an executive once asked her team for anonymous feedback on her leadership and communication skills. She thought they might respond with feedback on her tendency to take control of conversations.
    Instead, she was surprised that the biggest change her employees wanted was a simple one. They overwhelmingly wanted her to stop looking at her Apple Watch during conversations. Easy fix – she put it in a drawer and never wore it to a team meeting again!

    Small actions like this, as part of a larger overall commitment to leadership, help to build trust within your organization. When your team members trust you and know you’re committed to them, they’re also more likely to (1) make changes of their own and (2) give you the benefit of the doubt if you fall short of the expectations you set for yourself.

One last thing to remember: things don’t always go perfectly. Even when you’re committed to living out your leadership development lessons, you may still have days where you become stressed and reactive. Even when you want to do the best possible job for your team, you may fail to communicate because you’re running short on time or because you fall back into a bad habit.

Your goal is improvement, not perfection. When you continue to improve your leadership skills and build on your leadership development training lessons, you’ll earn the additional respect, trust, and loyalty of your team members and keep your organization motivated and moving forward.


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