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Steps for Ongoing Leader Development

By Heather Polivka

Featured in the September 2022 issue of PRSA Strategies & Tactics


We all know the importance of leaders. They can be a source of employee productivity and retention — or a drain on both. Choosing and supporting leaders should be a top priority at any organization.

Yet when it comes to training them, it’s not always seen as vital. When companies do recognize that even strong leaders need continuous development, sometimes we get stuck in the time machine of classroom-style,daylong sessions, oronline courses that feel like college classes.

Lifelong learning needs to keep pace with the rest of the workplace and the world. That means:


• Access at your Pingertips for real help in real time.

• Consumable content that’s quick and entertaining (How many people learn something they need to know on YouTube, or #LearnOnTikTok?).

• Available anywhere, anytime. If we’ve learned anything from remote work, it’s that we all have other lives and other responsibilities. Why force-Pit training into someone’s day?

• Interactive and responsive. With instant messaging and collaborative spaces for everyday work, shouldn’t training include that, too?

Bottlenecks to better training

If we know what makes training effective, then what’s getting in the way?

Cost. For many managers, when they hear “training” they think “cost.” Training is an investment with no downside. No business has ever struggled because they invested in training their leaders.

Uncertain results. As with any investment, you need to see a visible result. That means training needs to be retained and applied. Unfortunately, we lose an average of 50% of information within an hour, according to “Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve,” and within a day, it’s as high as 70% of new information.

Lack of applicability. Another challenge with training is that some of it can seem too theoretical. Even with strong content, leadership may be reluctant to invest in training that seems too far removed from the day-to-day needs of the organization.

Keys to better manager training

Think small. Look for learning in bite-sized bundles, for example 10-minute micro-learnings. Not only do shorter trainings have a higher chance of actually being watched, but they allow each person to learn at their own pace.

Maybe one person can absorb 10 sessions in an afternoon, while another person wants to start each day with one training. Because memories are short, people can easily repeat a training, too, which helps combat the Forgetting Curve.

Identify real-time action strategies. Look for training that includes real-time action strategies. You need to balance the “why” behind an approach with the opportunity to apply the theory. That’s especially important for concepts like Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEIB) and unconscious bias, where you need to absorb the history and concepts, apply them, and then go back to the material. A learning loop will be more helpful than a learning sequence.

Think community, not group. A company may send a new cohort of managers to training at the same time, or you may do group exercises as part of a class. Group learning adds value, no question. Given we all learn at different paces, though, it’s unlikely everyone will come away from the same training with the same knowledge.

You need training that provides community on your employees’ terms. Look for training tools that other a cohort approach including live interaction, as well as a peer group that can answer questions and act as a sounding board.

We know the importance of leaders who put words into action. They’re critical to employee attraction and retention. The reverse is equally true; toxic leaders drain talent.

But we don’t always complete the equation that if strong leaders are vital brand ambassadors, and training is vital for strong leaders, then training is key to your brand.

Here’s another way to think of it. Good leader development helps create and maintain healthy work cultures. Culture in turn creates the platform for how a workplace functions to achieve its business goals.

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