The first of several articles in the new Organizational Leadership series called Can We Talk About Leadership? Each series contains a number of brief thought provoking articles, followed by reflective-type questions to help guide and increase conversations around the topic of leadership development in the NFP and small business sectors. The goal of the series is to inject an alternative mindset that will challenge the existing learning and development culture. By exploring alternatives to traditional learning methods we increase a community’s options to support and develop its own leadership using an empowering inside/out approach. Please use the comment section below to share your thought, ideas or feedback.
“If we are to create a new kind of future for ourselves, we will need to learn new ways of thinking and acting that will lead to the new outcomes we desire.” 
Series 1 Article Title: Exploring Traditional Leadership Development
Nonprofits and small businesses need professional development and learning experiences to build strong, confident and effective leaders. A 2012 HR Council report titled Driving Change, identified leadership skills as the single most important attribute for a Director or Leader to possess. The skills most commonly identified are a blend of technical skills and leadership competencies for managing the complexities of the ever-changing nonprofit and business environments. Despite a strong indication that there exists a “pipeline of next generation leaders” there is growing concern that the traditional methods used to develop yesterday’s leaders are less than adequate and too costly to meet the needs of today’s organizations and leaders.
“In the midst of continual change and development, people rarely struggle because they lack some key piece of information or some precise procedure from a course or a book. Rather, they often get stuck in how they think and feel about themselves or their situations.”
Today’s leaders express needs for coaching and networking relational experiences that can help strengthen their effectiveness as opposed to feelings of ineffectiveness due to lack of support, limited training and overall low investment in preparing them to fulfill their roles.    A mindset strongly reinforced by HR research that commonly identifies the need for leaders to focus on establishing high quality connections as an opportunity to amplify new opportunities for learning and achievement. Through high-quality connections with others, leaders enhance their own capabilities that become a “powerful platform for development”  ultimately offering individuals and organizations better options with an increased likelihood of creating impact.
“For leaders, the most common leadership development activities are workshops, conferences and seminars, peer networks, and memberships in professional associations. While these activities are valuable, they do not address the challenges faced in developing leaders that can effectively empower and support their employees.” 
Image source:  Types of training used by non-profit sector over three year period (2011, HR Council)
Those NFP and small business sectors with limited budgets and fewer resources largely depend on sporadic, one-size fits all trainings, workshops, and annual conferences for professional development. However, several reports indicated that these types of offerings can contribute to new levels of awareness but have “an abysmal track record”  for impacting behaviour changes or elevating learning. In many cases, such development fails to provide the unique and tailored experiences that can address personality type, learning style, experience and background which are generally linked to changes in individual behaviour.
“We have attended multiple trainings – but few address how to manage effectively.”
From a systems approach, failing to address the issues of leadership development within these sectors will not only threaten the sustainability of the sector’s organizations but may lead to devastating consequences for the communities in which they live, work and serve.
Given these concerns, it seems both logical and necessary for both sectors to explore alternative learning and development approaches to support its leadership. Breaking away from the traditional training and development methods to engage in less costly options with seemingly more potential to create the conditions that will result in measurable learning outcomes to support lasting change.
Questions to get the conversation started…
- Do you agree or disagree with the above statement? Why or why not?
- Identify the training and development options commonly used to develop leadership skills and competencies within your NFP or business?
- What are the benefits and downsides of each development option?
- How does your organization measure training or development for effectiveness and impact on the learner?
- What additional development options would you like to explore? Why?
- What are the barriers to implementing your ideas?
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Series 1 Article 2: Is Traditional Leadership Development Failing Us?