Training employees is a fundamental element of a corporation’s success. A company succeeds only as well as the people running it can perform. This training process can cover many skills and go into many areas of expertise. One key element that has only recently come into action is an outdoor-based experiential training program.
Commonly called ‘ropes courses,’ wilderness courses or adventure learning programs have been in use in the USA since the early 1980’s, and by organizations in the UK since the early 1970s.
Outdoor programs have been most beneficial when used to promote effective work teams and used to enhance leadership and management skills in the participants. Outdoor- based training programs seem to accomplish these objectives by allowing participants to develop a high level of trust in their peers, improve their problem-solving ability, and generally improve the level of interpersonal communications between group members.
Companies are looking for leaders that can launch them into a new era. Constant improvement is necessary to meet the growth of challenging competition. So who defines leadership? What is a leader and how would you raise these skills that may be lying dormant in your subordinates? Organizations need great leaders to help them successfully survive the many difficulties of this decade. Yet, the very notion of leadership has rapidly degenerated into a cliché, a buzz word.
In many people’s minds, leadership has become identified with an overly simplistic conception of vision and empowerment. Although these concepts do play an important role in the leadership process, they only scratch the surface of what an exceptional leader actually does on a day-to-day basis.
What do leaders really do to make an organization work well? In my research, I found that great leaders exhibit nine different kinds of behaviours that enable them to bring out the best in the people around them. Some of the nine behaviours of leadership listed below involve building participatory teams, some involve using ‘situational management strategies,’ while others enhance personal resources. Listed separately, the nine behaviours include: Developing people.
- Being able to influence others.
- Encouraging teamwork.
- Empowering people.
- Using multiple options thinking.
- Taking intelligent risks.
- Being passionate about work.
- Having a strong, clear vision.
- Stretching one’s personal creativity.
While many people think leaders are unique, even born to that state of excellence, I have found just the opposite. With proper experiential training, it is possible for people to learn these leadership behaviors. In other words, leaders can be developed. By all means they should be developed at many levels in an organization because leadership in a hierarchical situation stimulates the best in their followers and thereby increases overall productivity.
In experiential training, the focus in on inner development. At the beginning of one leadership training course, participants are asked for their own definitions of leadership – so they can see, hear, and explore their ideas about the real leadership qualities. Most participants do not realize that there are fundamental behaviors of exceptional leadership. Instead they tend to believe the common myths about leadership – that it is a rare skill exhibited only by those at the top, that leaders are born and always display charisma and that they are strongly authoritative ‘take-charge’ people Dispelling these myths is a key and briefly I will explain the nine, learnable behaviors of leaders.
In order to go beyond a cognitive understanding, participants must begin to experience these behaviors as they might occur at work, hence the name experiential education. They will begin see that leaders have a strong interest in the people working for them, for when a team works well together they all help get an excellent job done.
The first four behaviors focus on building high functioning teams: developing people; being able to influence others, encouraging teamwork, and empowering others.
Developing People and Influencing Others Good leaders have a strong interest in the personal and professional development of their people. They encourage their staff to push beyond their limitations and give their personal best. One of the best ways to get this notion of encouragement and support across to people is to ask participants to remember and then write down how their best boss treated them, and how they felt about it. Then, have them share their answers with the rest of the group. Point out the common denominators in their answers so that their own experiences flesh out a composite picture of what it is like to offer people the support they need.
Finally, ask them this: If their own people were to do a similar exercise, would their own names be on their people’s lists? If not, why not? Where are they falling short in evoking the best from their people? Encouraging Teamwork A good leader not only develops his or her people as individuals but also knows how to get the best out of people when they work on teams. Being able to handle the subtle dynamics of whole group of people is not equivalent to dealing with the sum of its parts. By breaking participants into small groups and giving them a simple problem to solve, you can teach them about the issues that arise for teams. For example, if they work in small, separate teams on a tower building project, they will see how working together in one team accomplishes a greater product. Or, if they each have a specific task that is necessary to get the job done – being the navigator or pilot or other crew while landing the space shuttle back on earth – they see the necessity of functioning well together.
Some groups are results oriented. Some work on process, while others focus more on the relationships among the team members. Analyzing these three aspects of teamwork helps participants think about the way they work best individually and in teams.
Empowering Others Empowerment involves four dynamics: giving people important work to do; offering visibility and public recognition; encouraging autonomy; and helping them to establish networking skills.(IVAN) Exercises help participants feel the importance of each of the four dynamics.
Developing, influencing, encouraging, and empowering are four ways for a leader to get honest support. The best method to accomplish all these characteristics is to be a role model of an intelligent, caring person who truly listens. Equally important is the ability to analyze each business task and the staff who are perform it. Sometimes, a leader can delegate the work without supervision, but more often leaders need to coach, to facilitate or to direct so that the task is accomplished well and the worker learns eventually how to become more independent. Group exercises help participants experience these different levels of situational management.
But leaders also have to lead. They are expected to know problem situations and how handle them appropriately. Using multiple options thinking and intelligent risk-taking are two ways to move beyond traditional management techniques that focus on single solutions and avoidance of any risk.
Multiple Options Thinking Exceptional leaders don’t stop at the obvious. They know that the first answer they get may not always be the best answer, and even the ‘right’ answer may not be appropriate for a particular situation. There should always be at least four options to any given situation and when this way of thinking becomes habitual, new solutions appear.
The skill of exploring multiple options is demonstrated in an easy exercise. Participants take a 3×5 card and write on the card at least five problems they are currently facing with their employees such as reprimanding a difficult employee or asking someone to take a pay cut. The cards are shuffled and someone picks three or four of them. Ask the person whose problem is selected what he or she believes is the best answer to that specific problem. Then ask the rest of the group to brainstorm a number of other answers to the problem. Even if the first answer seems to be the best one or even the only one insist that they generate at least four more alternatives.
Taking the time to discuss the various answers with them usually offers the seed of an innovative response, and this response is often one of the answers most people ignore. Or two answers may be combined into a third option that would work better. Multiple option thinking should be the first approach of exceptional leaders.
Intelligent Risk Taking Good leaders know how to analyze the risks inherent in a particular course of action. They know when an action is high-risk or low-risk. Even more importantly, they know how to gain consensus from their staff about the level of risk for particular actions, so that their people do not treat high-risk activities as low-risk or vice versa.
In the training, you can start to deal with this issue by making the participants more aware of the criteria they use for analyzing risks. Put together small groups of people who work with each other on a regular basis. Ask them to come up with the criteria they normally use when they’re deciding how risky a particular action is. Have them report back to you with a number of specific criteria, such as time factors, cost resources, and acceptability to upper management.
Next, ask each group to look at three or four current actions they’re exploring and analyze the level of risk Ironically, even when they all use the same criteria, almost invariably there will be differences of opinion about the level of risk. Some people will habitually view most actions as high-risk, while others will normally do the opposite, regardless of the actual action they’re analyzing. It is important for them to discuss the nature of the risk until they come to consensus about the various actions.
Personal resources are equally important to the development of an exceptional leader. And having a Passion for the Work as well as a strong, clear Vision are most often noted when people are asked to describe leaders they admire. The leader’s ability to inspire and project into the future help others feel worthwhile in their own work and have a sense of purpose. For some the vision is very specific; for others it is simple and direct. But more important is the combination of words that work with actions so that others trust the vision and feel confident about its possibility. Small group exercises, including videotaping, help develop these concepts experientially.
Stretching One’s Personal Creativity When a leader is able to stretch personal creativity continually, it pulls together all the other behaviors. They are willing to stretch out into new arenas and discover things they didn’t know before.
In the training, participants are asked to write down a few work-related areas that they’ve wanted to know more about but haven’t taken the time to explore. They then pick one of these areas and devote a certain amount of time each week (ten minutes a day, for example) to learning about it. By taking the time to expand their own horizons, they will also be demonstrating to their people that the process of discovery matters. Being a role model in this area will encourage their people to do the same.
After reviewing the nine behaviors, the experiential exercises, and participants’ own definitions, each person should write out a contract in which he or she agrees to work on one or two of the nine behaviors on a daily basis. This is, in effect, an action plan that is as specific as possible.
Training that results in negative or zero transfer is either detrimental or of no value to an organization from a cost/ benefit viewpoint. It has been estimated that only 10% of the money spent on training results in an actual and lasting behavioral change on the job.
Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that will enhance the transfer of these newfound skills to the work setting. Maximizing the similarity of the training situation and the job situation and providing as much experience and practice with the job being taught. Follow-ups for at least a year will allow them to review basic concepts and ensure that the training has not gone to waste.
There are many programs that teach aspects of leadership and team growth. Companies that specialize in this field can be found everywhere hosting workshops and seminars. This type of hands-on education has, in my experience, been the best tool for anyone who wants to grow and succeed.
References Corporate Quality Universities, lessons in building a world-class workforce (Richard D Irwin, INC., 1994) Conceptualizing Reflection in Teacher Development (J. Calderhead and P. Gates, 1993) Training and Development Yearbook, 1995/1996 (Prentice Hall, INC., 1995) Experienced based Training and Development, a professional group within The association of experiential Education 2885 Aurora Ave., Suite 28 Boulder, CO. 80303-2252 (303)440-8844
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