When it comes to your learning and development strategy for leaders, context plays a key role in the effectiveness of your development program.

There aren’t many things quite as disheartening as when someone comes out of a leadership development session and says, “That was a waste of time!”. Why does that happen? Often it is because the training that is offered is not seen as relevant to the job or career development of the employee. This is exactly why when it comes to your learning and development strategy, there’s nothing more important than context! In our work with clients, much of our preparation and due diligence is spent on ‘setting the scene’, creating a pertinent and exciting experience that aligns closely with the individual’s development journey.

Three Types of Context

There are three types of context to consider: self, role, and business.

  • Self is a leader’s personal context. What are the attributes, preferences, and experiences that might shape their impact as a leader? How do you help them to make sense of these in a variety of leadership situations and challenges? These things affect their perception of learning.
  • Second is the context of the role itself. What are you asking your leaders to do on a day-to-day basis? How will learning and development affect their everyday work? How will success in the role be judged?
  • And finally, the context of the business. This relates to things as broad as industry developments and trends, but also relates to more specific things such as business priorities, culture, and tactics. For your learning and development strategy to be relevant, you must consider all three contexts in your approach. 


Context in Leadership Development

Because these contexts exist together, you’ll need to be ready with a learning and development strategy that can support several leadership development scenarios. Here are five scenarios that should be considered in a comprehensive leadership development strategy:

1. Development that’s “just in time” and “just for me.”

Leaders need access to information, knowledge, or guidance as they need it to do their jobs or complete a task. And this make sense. You should strive to give leaders learning opportunities “just in time”. In saying this, we also know leaders don't have a lot of time to browse through a huge library of content to find what they need. Give leaders access to only the learning they need, when they need it.

Along with learning that is available when they need it, leaders also want their learning to be “just for me.” Enter the idea of personalised learning. For this type of development to be effective, it depends on two things: recognising the uniqueness of leaders and anchoring it within your business context. Those unique needs can be targeted with data from leadership assessments.

2. An environment that celebrates genuine interest and curiosity.  

A desire to learn is often sparked by curiosity for a subject or area of practice. It may not be grounded in any specific leadership need, but it often helps to build overall knowledge and skills.

Create a psychologically safe environment for your leaders. Doing this sparks innovation and makes failing okay, because learning is happening along the way. This is another way to make learning celebrated.

3. The drive to be better.

It is common for leaders to recognise the need to improve their knowledge or skills in an area. This is more formal than curiosity and often requires deliberate focus and practice.

This drive for self-improvement is typically jump-started by a specific need to get better. So, it’s a good idea to create a healthy sense of tension for people to meet their leadership development goals.  

4. New skills to advance to a new role or level.

Both leaders and organisations recognise the need to develop new skills and acquire new knowledge as people move to a new role or level. This is based on the simple reality that the skills and knowledge at one level of the organisation may be very different than those at another level.

In addition, leaders and organisations will often forecast the need for a set of skills and knowledge that will be important in future roles and levels. For example, early in their careers leaders recognise the importance of developing strategic thinking skills. Make it easy for leaders to understand what skills they need to master in order to thrive in their current role and move on to bigger roles.

5. Guidance to prepare for a specific upcoming challenge.

Leaders must often pivot toward a specific company business challenge or priority (as we have all likely seen over the past year when the world was presented with the Covid-19 crisis). This will likely demand new skills or perspectives which need to be defined.

Are your leaders equipped to meet these challenges? You can upskill your leaders to reach specific business goals.


The Bottom Line

When it comes to your learning and development strategy for leaders, context matters. Keeping these five scenarios front of mind is a great way to also keep context front of mind, and to give your leaders what they need most to learn. Because without context, your leadership development programme won’t be nearly as effective as it could be.

To find our more about our Leadership Development Programmes, contact our team of Organisational Development Consultants.


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