5 Ways To Use Simulations To Develop Leaders: Risk-Free, Realistic Leadership Preparation
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How To Use Simulations To Develop Leaders: Creating Competitive Advantage

It’s true that leadership skills are horned in the field, but the strategic use of simulators can provide prospective leaders a competitive advantage over some of their colleagues, even though the latter may be long in the tooth in “experience”. That’s because unlike real-world experience, which can be encountered only by leaders who are actually in those situations; simulators can be leveraged to deliver a wide range of leadership experiences – even for situations  that have yet to be encountered! Here are 5  ways in which you can use simulators to develop leaders for your organization:

1. Choose Your Simulation Application Based On Your Needs

Like any problem solving approach, the use of simulators must be done in a precise and deliberate manner, and not as a “one size fits all” strategy. A predominantly research-oriented organization might prefer “Concept simulators”; senior management training needs may be best met with the help of “Top management game simulation”; while line-managers may best hone leadership skills through “Functional game simulation”.

The corporate technology needed to introduce simulators, as part of the training solution, must also be reviewed based on these needs. While some simulations may be implemented using popular platforms such as Xbox or Wii, others may need proprietary hardware and software solutions.

The idea is that, in order to develop effective leaders across the depth and breadth of the company, you need the right type of simulation toolset.

2. Integrate Simulators Within Core Leadership Training

Simulators on their own, as standalone tools, might have limited impact on leadership development. To be truly effective, simulators must be integrated into broader leadership training. For instance, a seminar focused on providing existing leaders with a refresher training about Workplace Health & Safety, can be made more effective if:

  • Traditional virtual or in-class training also incorporates simulation workshops.
  • The simulation can produce various scenarios about health and safety situations, and develop leadership responses to those situations.
  • Simulated situations may also be developed to train leaders on the latest occupational safety rules and regulations.

Subsequently, you could then roll up discussions about the simulated cases, and various responses to them by aspiring leaders, into the formal in-class or virtual discussions.

3. Make Simulations A Group Activity

There is definitely a use case for single participant simulations, for instance, when testing a driver of a newly developed experimental vehicle. However, most business scenarios benefit from making them into group simulation exercises.

  • Teams of players, even though geographically dispersed, can be pitted against one-another in a simulated business war scenario.
  • The actions and responses to various simulated scenarios (e.g. Product choices for a specific market; Pricing strategies for a certain region etc.) can yield invaluable details about how regional thought impacts corporate leadership decisions.
  • In playing “with” each other on the same team, future leaders gain invaluable insight into how their counterparts work, think and act – invaluable team-building traits.
  • In playing “against” each other on opposing teams, simulation can bring out highly competitive skills of future leaders to gain market share or obliterate business rivals.

As a group, simulated exercises can also be fine tuned to create more realistic business scenarios – for instance, a single company executive trying to sell an idea to more than one member of a company board of directors. In the absence of simulators, such use cases might be difficult to readily test an individual’s leadership skills.

4. Focus On Outcomes… Not Process

One of the chief attributes of simulated training for future leaders is that the exercise should be outcome driven, as opposed to process driven. The final deliverable of any simulated situation must result in an acceptable outcome based on the company’s unique culture and climate.

For instance, if players participating in a simulated situation related to “Loan Issuance at the Bank of XYZ” end the game by following all the rules – but still end up issuing some “bad loans”; then, the outcome should be reviewed carefully. Though all of the banks’ processes may have been followed, the outcome is something that the bank may not desire in real-life!

5. Take Simulation To The Next Level

While to be effective, simulations should be integrated into core teaching activities; the outcomes must also be used to make decisions about the next steps.

In our example above, if the simulated exercise determines that future leaders are still making “dubious calls” about loan issuance, senior management should consider:

  • Whether these leadership candidates need additional refresher training to strengthen core knowledge about the banks’ basic lending policies; OR
  • Whether there is a need to review those policies and enact clarifications or changes to them.

Either way, simulations can highlight room for improvement, not just in future leadership of the company, but also within various facets of the organization itself.

Effective To A Point, Unless…

Make no mistake: Simulators are indeed highly effective leadership development tools for all of the above mentioned reasons…and more! However, their effectiveness as training aids is limited only by the complexity and realistic nature of the scenarios that are simulated. Simulators will therefore become ineffective unless:

  1. The use-cases are grounded in real-life situations.
  2. The scenarios are continually upgraded to evolve as the organization continues to evolve.
  3. Formal review and ‘lessons learned’ sessions are conducted as part of the post-simulation debrief.

These 3 conditions will set the stage for leveraging the power of simulators to create highly effective leaders that can not only deal with situations previously encountered by other leaders; but who can adapt their leadership styles to meet scenarios that they might face in the future.

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In addition, you may be interested in the Instructional Design For eLearning course, which also focuses on creating successful, results-oriented training materials, games, and simulations.