How to Get the Most Out of Leadership Training

business professionals sitting in a training course
GettyImages/Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury

Learning to lead takes time on-the-job and ample mistakes before you truly grasp the reality of this most difficult of roles. However, a well-designed and professionally delivered leadership training program can help accelerate the development process if you and your manager approach it correctly.

I speak from experience on this topic as a repeat leadership training attendee and as the sponsor for a few dozen professionals selected to attend a number of highly-rated development programs.

While most participants described the experience as either "enlightening" or "transformational," as the executive sponsor, I was always concerned about connecting the investment and time in training to improving our leadership culture and our business results. It’s great to provide a meaningful training experience for your emerging leaders, however, the investment must generate positive results for the organization. The questions on every executive's mind when it comes to the topic of investing in leadership training include: 

  • Do the individuals who attend these types of programs move further faster in their leadership development?
  • Does the training have a noticeable impact on their performance?
  • Does our firm benefit from this investment?

My answer to all of those questions is a not so definitive, “it depends.”

Part of the dependency is owned by the manager(s) sponsoring the training, particularly for post-program coaching and development. Managers must be active participants in the process, before and after training or, the entire investment is reduced to check-box compliance on the annual performance review.

However, the majority of the weight for gaining a positive outcome from the program is on the shoulders of the participant. From pre-session preparation to in-class participation and post-program follow-up, the participant’s full commitment to this learning experience is the difference-maker. If you have been selected to attend a leadership training event, these ten tips will help you get the most out of this career enhancing experience.


10 Tips to Help You Get the Most Out of Leadership Training:

1. Prepare your attitude. Instead of feeling stressed over unplanned time away from the office or fearful of interacting with strangers, embrace your invitation as a great opportunity to learn and grow. It’s an honor to be sponsored for this event, and the great news is that whatever you learn will be with you for a lifetime. As for the strangers you will be forced to work with, these individuals represent an important new extension to your professional network.  

2. Arm yourself with meaningful input. Some programs call for an extensive 360-degree review to be completed ahead of the actual event. Work hard to identify respondents who see you from unique perspectives including: boss, peer, employee, service provider, and encourage them to be frank with their feedback. If the program doesn’t offer a 360-process, review your prior performance evaluations and reach out to colleagues for ideas on your strengths and gaps.

3. Model a beginner’s mind. Much like the “attitude” suggestion above, approach the subject matter and coursework not as an expert who’s heard it all before, but as a beginner, hungry to gain insights large and small.

The participant who responded to my post-session inquiry with, “It wasn’t anything I’ve not heard before,” missed this important lesson and likely shortchanged himself on the learning opportunity.

4. Engage whole-heartedly. The safety of the training session affords you an incredible opportunity to tackle the tough topics related to leading, guiding and developing others. Engage, ask questions, offer ideas and listen to the challenges and approaches described by your colleagues.

5. Form relationships with your new colleagues. The opportunity to meet and work with individuals from different firms, industries and even countries, is priceless. You will forever share a powerful bonding experience with these new colleagues. Look for opportunities to extend the relationships beyond the actual event.

One enterprising training participant organized a post-session LinkedIn Group, where they continued to share ideas and approaches.

6. Get over your fear of role-playing. The notion of acting out different scenarios is up there with fears of public speaking. Get over it. Every member of your group is in the same situation and you are in a safe environment. Role-playing is nothing more than practice, and practice is an important step in the learning process.

7. Don’t skip the socializing. During a multi-day training program, class is always in session, even during mealtime and evening recreation. Find the instructor, coach or colleagues and keep the discussion flowing. Some of the most valuable learning takes place in the more relaxed sessions where individuals freely share their own challenges and ideas.

8. Leverage the coaching. The best leadership training programs include a powerful coaching module as part of the curriculum. The coach and participant review feedback from the 360-degree reviews and focus on opportunities to strengthen superpowers and improve key weaknesses. If this coaching is available to you, soak it up. The coach is an objective outsider who is motivated only by the need to help you develop. Her frank input and thoughtful questions are rocket-fuel for performance improvement.

9. Plan the next steps before you head to the airport. The value of any training experience is a direct function of what you do with the new-found knowledge and ideas once the session has ended. Take the time while you are immersed in the program to identify a small number of important behavior changes and develop an action plan to strengthen your performance with these behaviors. Resist the urge to define a complete leadership makeover. Focus your efforts and define a plan to change, monitor and measure your performance.

10. Work your plan. The worst thing you can do is throw the binder of materials on the shelf, pin the certificate to your wall and then jump back into your work as if nothing happened. Something did happen. If you follow the guidelines above, you’re a different person and leader upon your return. Put the ideas and approaches to work. You’ll benefit for a lifetime and your current boss will smile and recognize that you were worth the investment.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

In a world characterized by change and uncertainty, your career security is a function of your skills and your reputation. Training is a valuable component of your overall professional development program. If you are fortunate enough to be invited to participate in a leadership training experience, maximize the learning potential by engaging and immersing yourself in the experience.