Magazine article Talent Development

How to Tame a Wild Elephant

Magazine article Talent Development

How to Tame a Wild Elephant

Article excerpt

What does taming an elephant have to do with the corporate world? Everything. Taming an elephant requires persistence and determination and an unwavering desire to have some measure of control over a wild beast. That is very similar to the process of training one's mind to handle negative events or challenges with ease.

Just like an elephant, the mind has a tendency to run wild and thrash about, causing unwanted havoc--particularly when it's dealing with stress and negative circumstances. Developing leaders in the area of mind management is the greatest challenge for corporate trainers and simultaneously has the largest implication on return-on-investment.

The 'softer' side of leadership

Historically, training was borne from the need to develop tangible skills, such as how to use heavy equipment or how to execute a process with precision from start to finish. The focus was on helping people pick up practical skills that could be measured and applied instantly. Although we still provide that kind of training in many blue-collar environments, the focus of training has shifted over the years to include the softer side of development.

We now invest time, money, and energy attempting to develop individuals and teams in areas requiring mental discipline, such as communication, problem solving, and leadership. Interestingly, the impact of these training efforts has been less than easy to evaluate and many have questioned their worth over time.

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a woman who had reached out to me after an ASTD webinar I had conducted. She asked me to help her understand why her leadership training program was not working. I asked her to describe her program. She explained, "Once a month a group of high-potential leaders from different departments in the company come in for a day-long training session focusing on leadership. The expectation is that they attend all sessions and submit reports on their progress in between sessions. The problem is that attendance keeps getting worse with every passing month and there is less and less reporting in between sessions. I don't know what to do."

I then asked her to describe the kind of material that was covered in the day-long training sessions. She responded, "We talk about the characteristics of a leader and we discuss the behaviors that leaders demonstrate."

Instantly I knew that the primary downfall of her training program was the fact that it had little or no relevance for these high-potential leaders who probably had more pressing matters on their plates than discussing the characteristics of leaders. Unfortunately, that problem is not uncommon in the training industry.

For trainers who are commissioned with developing individuals and teams in softer, less tangible areas like leadership I offer you practical recommendations to accomplishing this.

Incorporate coaching

Create an individualized and highly customized training program by implementing a well-tested coaching process that focuses on leadership development rather than leaning on the traditional classroom-based training model. With a coaching process in place, the content is not generic, but rather comes directly from the live, day-to-day, leadership challenges that are encountered on the job.

The goal here is to tune into the situations that crop up in participants' real-world environments and use them to offer relevant, personal, and timely coaching. For example, if there is a conflict brewing between two people in their department, hone in on this as an opportunity to help them learn and develop real-time leadership skills that can be implemented immediately and where measurable results can be observed.

The more relevant the coaching, the higher the level of engagement is in the training process. What is required in this scenario is a trainer who does not simply relay information, but rather one who can facilitate learning by helping participants to apply a leadership framework to concrete leadership problems. …

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