7 Elements of a Great Leadership Development Workshop

Whenever I’m designing a leadership development workshop, I’m always aware of the cost of pulling 20 or so supervisors, managers, or executives away from their work for anywheres from 4 hours to 4 weeks. The biggest cost of any training program isn’t the instructors, travel, facilities, and food. It’s not even the salaries of the participants. The most significant cost, and often overlooked, is the lost opportunity cost. For every hour a manager, or salesperson, or programmer, spends in a classroom, that’s one hour of lost productivity. For executives, the opportunity cost is even greater. That could mean one less deal being made, one less critical decision being made, one less meeting with an investor or customer, etc…

Being aware of these total costs gives me additional motivation to make sure every minute is well spent and the benefits far outweigh the costs. Here are some things I’ve learned over time that will lead to a great leadership development experience.

1. Executive and management involvement
I’ve already written about this topic – see “10 Ways to Involve Leaders in Leadership Development Programs”. Involve them right from start to finish, and everywhere in between. You’ll get a better workshop and the learning will be reinforced – that’s a given. However, here’s the real secret sauce of involving executive sponsors and the participant’s managers: they end up learning and role modeling as well! I’m not sure if there’s an official name for this phenomenon, but I’ve been calling it “the ripple effect”.
As you design – always bake in ripple throughout the process. More ripple = more ROI.

2. Participant selection
I’ve never been a fan of unscreened, open enrollment programs. I’ve found that careful participant selection can make or break a program. Consideration should be given to skill level, common interests, challenges, and needs, motivation, and diversity. Take advantage of activities, breaks, meals, and evenings to promote networking.

3. Pre-work and postwork
Think of any leadership development as a process, not just an event. With effective pre and post work, you can often build as much development before and after the workshop as you can during the workshop. Examples of effective pre and post work include:
– Pre and post meetings with the manager to review expectations and debrief learnings (see #1)
– Readings – case studies, books, and online articles
– Blogs, Wikkis, and threaded discussions
– Journaling (send them a nice journal with tips on how to journal)
– Shadowing assignments or interviews
– Conference calls or webinars
– Online training

4. Extraordinary content
I understand the value of self-discovery and learning from our peers – that’s all well and good. However, the best leadership development programs always include some amount of fascinating and incredibly relevant content. That is, helpful tips, new ideas, proven best practices… the kind of content that causes participants to light up, pick up their pens and start writing. The source of this content can be internal or external experts –there’s a time and place for both. Or, extraordinary content could be researched or purchased, and delivered by a skilled trainer.

5. Participant involvement
Extraordinary content by itself will not always produce learning, and certainly not development. Great leadership development programs always have at least 50% of the time devoted to doing. The “doing” can include action learning, case studies, discussions, role plays, white paper development and presentation, and simulations.

6. Participant insight
Every leader is different, and no workshop could possibly be designed to address each leader’s specific development needs. In order to ensure these unique needs are uncovered and addressed, build in assessment, feedback, coaching (peer or professional), time for reflection and individual development planning.

7. Great logistics
It’s unfortunate, but I’ve seen great programs unravel due to inadequate meeting rooms, horrible food, ice cold or sauna-like room temperatures, technology failures, guest speakers not showing up, and all sorts of other little things that were just overlooked. My approach is to plan it like a wedding – think through every little thing that could go wrong, and have back-up plans for every kind of emergency.