Why All Employees Should be Trained on Leadership Skills

When looking at leadership development as a whole, experiential learning can help leaders apply strong leadership behaviors in various situations.

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According to Brandon Hall Group’s study, Creating Leadership Development for Everyone, about seven out of ten organizations believe leadership development training is needed for every employee. The trend, which has evolved over the past few years, is to democratize leadership development as much as possible.

Overcoming the Challenges

More than 80 percent of organizations surveyed said democratizing leadership development has the following significant benefits for both employees and employers:

However, research respondents said that offering leadership development across an entire enterprise — especially larger ones — has challenges and competes with many other learning priorities. In addition, more than 60 percent said fully democratized leadership development could send the wrong message.

The Best Ways to Introduce Leadership to All Employees

The goal of fully democratized leadership development is to create a cohesive leadership culture transcending all levels and geographies. A rich, inclusive, collaborative culture can be built with everyone operating from the same set of leadership behaviors.

However, there are different levels of proficiency. In democratizing leadership, organizations must decide the foundations that should be established for all employees, which then can be built upon and added to over time.

Use a Competency Mix

We asked research respondents to provide their ideal mix of five competencies that were seen in previous research as critical for foundational leadership training. Here are the averages:

Emotional intelligence, or EQ as often referred to, emerged as the competency deserving more attention than the other competencies. This makes sense because it comprises four related domains – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Each can help leaders face any situation with lower levels of stress, less emotional reactivity, and few unintended consequences.

Imagine if everyone in your organization were strong — or at least more developed

— in emotional intelligence. It opens the door to more open and effective collaboration, feedback, development, conflict resolution, and more. Everyone operates with the same understanding of how to conduct oneself and their behaviors’ impact on others.

Strong emotional intelligence also influences resiliency and change readiness, which is essential because of the VUCA environment in which organizations often work. Embracing diversity and promoting inclusion is critical to modern literacy and ranks below

resiliency. Strategy and execution also are essential. While new or frontline employees might not leverage this right away, it is a foundational skill that should be introduced and built upon. While digital literacy is viewed as less critical, it is still a good foundation for leading and collaborating, especially in an increasingly virtual world.

The other key building block to strong leadership, which is missing from this list,

is business acumen. Everyone, whether they are in a line role or working in some leadership role, must operate in the context of their business and industry and understand the needs of internal and external stakeholders. Consider introducing business acumen in basic leadership training, especially if employees are not exposed to it in onboarding or other training areas.

Use a Mix of Learning Modalities

Respondents indicated that experiential learning — including coaching, mentoring, and on-the-job training — should often be used in delivering leadership training for all employees. Here are the averages for different types of learning used:

When looking at leadership development overall, we agree that experiential learning is best for helping leaders apply strong leadership behaviors in various situations. But when it comes to prioritizing learning modalities, employers need to consider several variables, most notably scale.

When you train all employees – which can be tens or even hundreds of thousands – experiential learning at all levels of the organization is generally not scalable. When introducing leadership foundations — such as emotional intelligence — formal and informal learning are better suited for providing knowledge and reinforcing it.

Over time, or as employees move into new roles and responsibilities, more experiential learning (as well as continued reinforcement and peer discussions) can be leveraged to drive the practical application of leadership principles in various situations. It’s important that organizations carefully consider their learning strategy for democratizing leadership development at scale.

Cliff Stevenson is Principal Analyst, Workforce Management and Talent Acquisition for Brandon Hall Group. The firm’s vision is to inspire a better workplace experience, and its mission is to empower excellence in organizations around the world through its research and tools. Brandon Hall Group has six HCM practices and produces Brandon Hall Group’s HCM Excellence Awards and the annual HCM Excellence Conference, in West Palm Beach, FL.