Context In Leadership Training: Without Context, Leadership Training Will Fail

Why Addressing Context In Leadership Training Is Crucial 

Let’s say a colleague asks you what makes a good leader. You begin mentally listing qualities: Maybe it’s someone who speaks confidently to a crowd, a detailed-oriented organizer who crosses the t’s and dots the i’s, or a coach who pushes their team. These qualities can make an amazing leader. Then, let’s ask ourselves, “Where does this great leader fit in? Who are they leading and what are their goals?”. Successful leaders don’t come in a one-size-fits-all package and neither should a company’s leadership training. Here is why failing to address context in leadership training could be a disaster.

Mixing Theory With Application

A great leader in one situation doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she will perform well in another situation. Leadership training fails when it ignores context; one leadership style is not the most effective in any given situation.

One rational way to bring context into leadership training on the job is to continuously weave leadership training into the job itself. As the Harvard Business Review points out, “Organizational learning has to become less about the kind of learning done in a training session or online tutorial and more about continuous learning on the job”. This type of training certainly brings context to the forefront, and it facilitates continuous learning in the work environment. It encourages leaders to use their environment to adapt to change and use new opportunities.

Avoiding The Cookie Cutter Approach To Leadership

This training approach makes companies think slightly different about learning because it relies heavily on different situations to teach leadership skills. Bringing context and environment to leadership training avoids the cookie-cutter training results. It breaks the stereotype that great leaders will be able to take best practice leadership lessons and make a blanket application of those lessons to every situation or challenge.

As leadership expert Victor H. Vroom emphasizes about bringing context in leadership training, “Different kinds of organizations, different kinds of challenges, and different kinds of decisions require different leadership styles”. Leadership training can teach general principles, but it then should teach leaders to assess different situations so he or she can implement the best strategy. In Vroom’s leadership research and work, he aims to help company managers adapt their leadership style to fit a specific situation.

Embracing And Adapting To Change

Since today’s workplace is dominated by change, new technology, trends and broader workspaces can shift on a regular basis and leaders should be comfortable handling those changes. A leadership training initiative that embraces contextual change invites better strategic thinking.

Leadership training should also encourage aspiring leaders to read into the context of a situation and see what roles everyone in the team can play. This engages aspiring leaders as they guide their team towards a common goal, but it also forces them to learn leadership skills on the job. It boosts potential for everyone in a team to become better leaders.

As an example, Vroom uses sail boating with his son to illustrate how learning to shift leadership roles engages learning for a common goal. He describes himself as an “autocratic” leader when it comes to his boat, because he’s always at the helm giving orders to his son. One day when his son asks to borrow the boat on his own, Vroom is hesitant because he’ll have to turn his leadership over to his son. Eventually, Vroom accepts the idea, knowing his son has learned a lot from him during their trips together.

Addressing context in leadership training matters because leaders come in different packages, and one size does not fit all. Leadership training shouldn’t be trying to create the best overall leader, but the best leader for a specific environment or situation. This can be implemented by encouraging at least part of the leadership training be held in an on-the-job situation where context is always present.

Aspiring leaders should be trained to assess different situations and learn how to implement a strategy for the best results. If companies recognize and implement these approaches, then leadership training will succeed in forming great adaptable leaders.

Learn other best practices for training development and implementation in AllenComm’s 2016 Training Trends ebook.

eBook Release: AllenComm
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