You’re Back from Your Leadership Development Program. Now What?





by Brenda Steinberg and Michael D. Watkins


After participating in a good leadership development program, you’ll no doubt feel inspired to transform yourself, your team, and your organization. That’s why companies spend more than $46 billion per year on such training. They want their employees, from high potentials to top executives, to gain energy and purpose by learning and envisioning the future with others.

However, many program participants find it challenging to sustain momentum and achieve durable post-program results. As an executive who recently graduated from one of ours told us: “I left incredibly motivated. I had a clear plan for how I needed to lead and restructure my area. Three weeks later, I was extremely frustrated. It felt like nothing had changed.”

Most often, leaders are making progress — just not at the speed they had hoped. Success requires determined effort combined with care about pacing and adjustment. Here are some practical strategies to help you navigate the crucial post-program “reentry” phase and maximize the impact of your experience.

Anticipate reactions.

When you return from your program, colleagues will be curious about it. When they ask you how it went, don’t overwhelm them with too much information or gloss over your answer. Instead, have ready a few 60-second elevator pitches – each highlighting a key takeaway, its strategic implications, why it’s important to you, and how it will shape your thinking in the future.

You will likely need different pitches for different stakeholders. For example, your pitch to your direct reports might be about what you learned about empowering the team. At the same time, the one to your boss might be targeted to executing the strategy or achieving business results.  A well-crafted reentry pitch will engage the heads and the hearts of listeners and signal potential changes.

Recognize others’ contributions.

Take the time to recognize the people who made it possible for you to attend the program. Tell reports how much you appreciate their hard work ensuring operations ran well when you were away.

Also, explore what they learned and how they developed during your absence and any impact it’s had on their future goals and aspirations. Any post-program change agenda will require the support of your team, and this is an opportunity to both create goodwill and explore how you might free up time by shifting responsibilities.

Make sure to thank your boss, peers, and others, too, emphasizing how they might benefit from your new insights and ideas. By demonstrating your gratitude and connecting your experience to group and organizational success, you reinforce your commitment to others.

Embrace the opportunity.

Leaders often worry that their newly acquired behaviors or visions will be met with skepticism and jokes about just returning from a course. “Who kidnapped the real you and substituted this alien?” is a common refrain. But don’t let this fear hold you back. You will be more disappointed in the long run if you fail to make any changes or if others fail to recognize your growth.

Remember that this is an opportunity. Acknowledge that while you are committed to continuous, long-term personal and team development, the course was indeed a catalyst for new thinking. Emphasize that you are dedicated to working with others to drive meaningful change.

Communicate your intentions.

To gain support for your change ideas, it’s essential to be candid about your intentions and the challenges you anticipate. The idea isn’t just to inform them and eliminate any preconceived notions they might have; it’s also to involve them in specific areas of transformation.

Be mindful that you have been thinking about this evolution for longer than they have, though, and allow them time to process, reflect, and adapt. Ultimately, the goal is to create a shared understanding and facilitate a smoother transition.

Pace yourself.

You may return to your professional life inspired and impatient to fix things right away. But pace and prioritization are paramount.

Of course, if the program has prompted you to realize that you have been procrastinating on a critical change and have the authority to make it, do so immediately. Be courageous, communicate clearly, and take action.

However, most changes will benefit from a more gradual approach. Introduce new ideas incrementally, respecting others’ adaptation process. Small, consistent individual and team shifts are better accepted and less disruptive. Allow time for practice and refinement to solidify changes.

Build a support network.

You’ll want a support network both inside and outside your team. Stay in touch with people you met in your development program to share advice and hold one another accountable. You might consider creating a group on platforms like WhatsApp or establishing a buddy system whereby partners check in every four to six weeks. Within your organization, identify individuals in the best position to discuss and advise on your intended changes and enlist them to provide regular feedback and help you work through challenges.

Stay the course.

The only way to achieve change is through consistent effort. Accept that your initial work is unlikely to yield immediate results, that there might be resistance and setbacks, and stay patient. Communicate often and clearly, balancing understanding with determination. Recognize that small steps add up to significant ones and stick with it. With work, your development program experience can lead to long-lasting personal, team, or organizational change.


Source: HBR


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