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How Professional Development Can Create Great Leaders

Posted: Jun 30, 2017
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How Professional Development Can Create Great Leaders

Training your leaders is an important component of running a successful business. However, many managers are only gaining skills through on-the-job experience and not through formal professional development. Is on-the-job experience the best and only way to learn? Are soft skills just as important or even more important as hard skills?

Professional development has changed, and in order for better leaders to be created, leadership training must get incorporated into our careers. New Horizons Instructor and expert in Soft Skills Training, Robert Stillman, sat down with us to talk about the new ways businesses are refocusing their training initiatives. He also discusses how gained knowledge is helpful and what newer generations can learn about ascending into higher roles.

Question: How are Managers Refocusing Professional Development Training?Answer: There’s been a lot of trends through the years in management styles and techniques.  The more established models used in the 80’s/90’s have been giving way to new more intuitive models.  There are fewer people making it through the college ranks with more than a touch of exposure in management education. We have seen a spike in requests for prepping the new crop of leaders in what leadership means, and what is expected as a manager/emerging leader. 

As an example the 90’s and 2000’s brought us management models like Blanchard’s Servant leadership, the Hersey Blanchard model of Situational Leadership and Senge’s Fifth Discipline.  Each has its own benefits but there are also gaps in the empirical data supporting their effectiveness as well.  For an organization providing Professional development training whether it’s to improve engagement or to ready their next crop of leaders, we have a good width and breadth to offer an organization. 

So how are they refocusing? They’re being more creative with the training process. That that’s where the Center for Leadership can come in. More hands-on training, real life experience instead of reading about methods in a book. Learning happens when the student is allowed to explore and experiment, not be talked to for 3 days.  We also have the ability to custom tailor the training to fit the clients’ time restraints per training session. 

Question: Do You think Newer Generations want to Manage Sooner than Before?

Answer: I think you ask any executive across the country they'll agree that today's college graduate expects to move up faster than any other group. A good tactic for companies to address the pressure on their line managers is to arm them with the essential coaching and review tactics that can parley the anxious millennial into a responsibility-accepting team player. Simon Sinek addresses this phenomena in an interview he did recently. In that talk he puts business on notice that unfortunately, they will become the teachers of patience and what it means to put your time in to this Millennial in the work place. 

Question: What about those Who Suddenly Find Themselves in Leadership Roles?

Answer: Whether it’s through attrition, lateral moves or bad bosses, one day you wake to find you are the most senior person on a team. This is a different flavor than the young guy coming up through the ranks that shows early promise and you want to develop. What they both have in common is that they both need readiness training on the skills necessary to succeed in their new role. This type of training pays big dividends to companies in keeping the new team from revolting over their former colleague and now supervisor/ manager. 

Question: What Does it Mean to Have Industry Knowledge vs. People Knowledge?

AnswerWhile industry knowledge is widely understood, our concept of what constitutes people knowledge is beginning to crystallize with the advances in our teaching of Emotional Intelligence. Jack Welch, a former CEO and now teacher of future leaders through his MBA program, has a quote about emotional intelligence; he says ‘No doubt emotional intelligence is more rare than book smarts, but my experience says it is actually more important in the making of a leader’. For years people thought “How do we teach this as soft skill training?” That is really what I see for the Center for Leadership & Development. As a newer form of training in a skill (Emotional Intelligence) that can be earnestly implemented into everyday life and here’s the best part! It moves the needle in the areas of productivity, leadership skills, relationship building and hence sales. While they both [industry and people knowledge] can be taught, people knowledge can now be delivered more quickly than the years it can take to gain industry knowledge

Question: Can You Be Successful without Both Industry & People Skills?

Answer: A good example to answer this is an insurance company that did an experiment. They gave everybody coming into their sales program this emotional intelligence test. The groups were broken down into two groups. One group with more optimism and they were given emotional intelligence training as part of their training regimen. The other group had people with more insurance industry knowledge, but didn’t get the emotional intelligence training. What they found was an overwhelming advantage in having high optimism but not a lot of industry experience. That group actually far outsold the others with their people skills; it was nearly two and a half times the sales. They actually stuck with it for a longer time than the people with high industry knowledge. It just proves that people skills are essential and a great thing to have coming into a job; industry knowledge can be gained throughout time. I suppose you can be successful without industry and people skills. There were certainly beginners in the industry who had zero people skills. Someone like a Steve Jobs maybe? He was pretty successful I think. 

Download our free eBook "How to Build Your IT Leadership Pipeline"

Industry knowledge has a big hold in training at the moment, but as proven by Robert there is a benefit to having employees with a good source of people knowledge as well. That benefit is even greater when your staff has a combination of both. Proper training and experience make for a stronger workforce and better leaders in your organization.


Robert Stillman, Instructor for Leadership & DevelopmentRobert Stillman is our lead instructor for the Center for Leadership & Development, which includes 26 class titles that cover a wide variety of business skill courses. He has more than 20 years of experience in the Sales and Marketing/Project Management and IT Management fields. Over the course of his career, Mr. Stillman has serviced such notable clients as Microsoft, Google, Best Buy, Solar City, Pepsi Cola General Bottlers, United Airlines, Cook Composites, Marketstar and the Department of Homeland Security.


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