Topics for Leadership Training

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Leadership training provides learning and development solutions for existing leadership as well as potential leaders within an organization. The organizational goal of leadership training is to provide participants – who may range from front-line supervisors to executives and directors – with in-depth, educational content and rich opportunities to relate and apply newly acquired knowledge to realistic situations. Leadership training also allows participants to exchange ideas and information, challenge old assumptions and develop new initiatives. Individual goals for leadership training include personal and professional development and redefining the skill set the supervisor or manager needs to be an effective leader and valued contributor to the company. Although the number of leadership training topics is vast, all training generally follows basic principles, theories and practices specifically designed for adult learning.

Principles of Leadership Training

The best learning and development opportunities are based on several adult learning principles. Highly regarded adult educator Malcolm Knowles expanded on the theory of andragogy, a term coined during the early 19th century by Alexander Kapp, a German teacher and editor. The term andragogy refers to the level of engagement or participation that is necessary for adult learning to be successful. Leadership training for adults in the workplace or adults contemplating leadership roles must fulfill four basic requirements.

First, adults need to know why the leadership training is necessary; they must understand the purpose of the training. Second, adult learning is best received when participants can apply what they learn in the classroom to actual job functions. In other words, it must be purposeful. Third, adult learning absolutely must consider that everyone has different experiences, whether on-the-job or life experiences, that have an effect on how they learn. Finally, the fourth requirement is that adult learning is most effective when it includes some aspect of self-direction. For example, classroom training for adults should incorporate self-paced learning as part of the overall training because many adult learners retain knowledge when there is an aspect of individual discovery that supplements the classroom training.

Leadership Training Based on Learning Styles

Virtually every topic for leadership training can be designed or modified to suit the three primary learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic.

For visual learners, leadership training that features the instructor actually demonstrating a practice is particularly useful because they witness how it is done. For example, a leadership seminar on how to provide staff feedback might include the instructor saying, "This is how you begin the performance review conversation with your direct report when the feedback you're about to give is mediocre. 'John, thank you for agreeing to meet this afternoon. Let's discuss your performance for the 2018 calendar year. I'll start with the areas where your job performance exceeds our expectations. Next, we'll talk about the areas for improvement so you can fully meet the company's performance standards. Then, we'll work on an action plan for the new year's performance goals.'"

Adult learners who benefit from the auditory style of learning can absorb material by intently listening to classroom lectures, asking questions and, in some cases, listening to recordings of previous lectures to reinforce their knowledge. Auditory learners are fully engaged in the classroom, ignoring any distractions that might keep them from acquiring knowledge on leadership topics. Most leadership workshops have to be designed to accommodate the learning styles of more than auditory learners, so it may be rare to find a leadership topic being presented via lecture only.

Learning by doing, or the kinesthetic style of learning, is the style that requires learners to master concepts by performing tasks or engaging in project-based leadership training where participants demonstrate their knowledge or newly acquired skills through actually doing the work. Many leadership development workshops include teamwork as part of the learning process, which satisfies the needs of a kinesthetic learner.

Leadership Training Development and Design

Regardless of the topic, leadership training and workshops for managers and supervisors generally take on a similar look and feel. Factors such as how adults learn, course design, what makes for effective learning and learning models and theories affect the impact of leadership training.

While there are different learning styles – visual, auditory and kinesthetic – adult learners learn by doing. Learning by doing occurs during classroom instruction and continues when the manager or supervisor puts into practice the newly acquired knowledge. Leadership training that includes interactive activities, examples and scenarios reinforces learning. This type of sequencing and layering of learning activities provides participants with opportunities to practice, which translates into on-the-job performance.

Learning development and design – the activities that go into the course design – are best accomplished by a team of content experts, instructional designers and creative technical experts. Working together, different experts can design factually accurate programs that effectively convey the necessary information and engage the learner.

Effective leadership training enhances self-awareness and allows participants to engage in self-reflection. This means leadership training absolutely must take into consideration individual professional goals and not just the organizational goals. This two-prong approach to leadership training, therefore, checks the box for both the organization and the individual manager or supervisor in terms of making good use of time and resources. Learning events must be driven from and measured by the performance as well as the results metrics the organization is trying to achieve.

Models and theories serve as a baseline of knowledge and are tailored for on-the-job relevance. Leadership training has to be relevant and must contain useful and usable information. Otherwise, there's no point in wasting time assembling a group of leaders to acquire knowledge that they are unlikely to use on the job. For example, say a workshop focuses on client-facing techniques for developing new business. Supervisors whose primary job duties are focused on workforce management and strengthening labor-management relationships won't find this type of leadership training effective or necessary. If they aren't putting into practice what they learn in the classroom, the organization has essentially wasted time and resources providing training on business development for supervisors.

Great training is driven by compelling instruction and is supplemented by creative technology. As the main driver in the learning process, sound instructional system design methodologies lay the foundation for successful learning. Creative technological interactions serve to enhance and encourage learning and can provide managers and supervisors with a dynamic and captivating experience.

Purpose of Leadership Development Training Modules

Several modules may make up leadership training and professional development. Although the modules may appear to be distinctly separate, the goal of packaging several modules is to provide leadership training for managers and supervisors using a holistic approach. The overall goal and purpose of leadership training is to facilitate an effective transformation to leadership. Leadership development training modules typical include segments on communication, team development, decision making and workforce management. Effective communication for supervisors and managers is the fundamental and underlying message that instructors convey to workshop participants. To be most effective, the workshops and modules need to be tailored to reflect the participants' varied experiences and backgrounds.

Sample Leadership Training and Workshop Topic Ideas

Leadership training can cover a multitude of topical areas and subjects, ranging from communication to change management. Facilitators may deliver courses and workshops that are as short as two-hour, brown-bag briefings to seminars that last several days. The topics, subject areas and duration of leadership training depends on the resources and funding available and, importantly, participant interest. Examples of leadership training workshop topics and descriptions are:

  • Factors of Successful Change

Change can be a time of exciting opportunity for some and a time of loss, disruption or threat for others. How such responses to change are managed can be the difference between surviving and thriving in a work environment. While each organization needs to consider the best way to approach change based on their particular cultural and stakeholder perspectives, this workshop focuses on the factors common to successful change management: planning, defined governance, committed leadership, informed stakeholders and aligned workforce.

  • Effective Communication

Interpersonal communication is at the core of any successful work team. Not confined to any single aspect of our lives, it permeates everything we do or say (as well as what we don’t say). The impression we leave on people, the way we express ourselves, how we come across to others, how we listen, how we empathize and the attitude behind our words and actions all contribute to the quality and success of our interactions with others. This training provides a comprehensive start to exploring, understanding and practicing the essentials of good communication and how it determines our effectiveness in the workplace.

  • Career Conversations

This workshop offers senior leaders, managers and supervisors an opportunity to examine career development through the lens of employee engagement, leadership, core competency development and personal reflection, all in a casual, interactive format. Tools, resources and information that support career conversations are offered, and all can be customized to meet the needs of each participant. This workshop offers the foundational workshop in a customized format with specific support for managers and supervisors as it relates to performance management and accountability.

  • How Communication Impacts Psychological Safety

Psychological health refers to the ability to think, feel and behave in a healthy way at work and away from work. Just as physical hazards pose a risk to physical safety, psychological hazards are risk factors that can have an impact on psychological health. This workshop focuses on creating effective communication strategies to foster a psychologically safe environment in the workplace. The first step in working toward a goal of achieving a psychologically safe workplace is to identify and reduce psychological hazards such as perceived high workload, lack of control or latitude in deciding how work is done, lack of support, perceived lack of respect, unclear conflicting, changing expectations and burnout.

  • Managing Virtual Teams

The number of remote employees is rising. For supervisors and managers, your job of keeping these offsite workers connected and engaged is complicated. Whether they’re at home, on the road or working in another office, supervising offsite employees requires effective communication, heightened trust and unique reporting procedures. Even an experienced supervisor could use a few new tips. This workshop focuses on your top concerns in managing virtual teams and direct reports who are remote workers. In this training, you’ll discover the secrets to getting staff to pull together and work as a team, even when they rarely see one another. You’ll find new ways to keep communication flowing smoothly and learn how to let your employees know that you support them and understand their challenges.

  • Critical Thinking

This workshop gives participants valuable skills to vastly improve reasoning, root cause analysis and decision-making skills. Participants will learn how to create an intellectually disciplined thinking process for gathering information and conceptualizing and achieving solutions. The workshop presents techniques to conceptualize, analyze, synthesize, evaluate and apply information. Problem solving, decision making and planning skills are among the learning objectives. Participants will learn methods for gathering information by observation, interviewing, experience, reasoning or communication. The workshop presents numerous techniques to reduce the time and cost associated with developing and achieving solutions to complex problems.

Gauging Interest in Leadership Training

Just as supervisors and managers should be involved in the decision to participate in leadership training, they also should have an opportunity to tell your training department or human resources director what type of management training program topics interest them. Well-written and compelling workshop descriptions are fine, but the best way to gauge which topics are most interesting is to poll supervisors and managers. Provide several workshop titles and descriptions from which they can choose and ask for suggestions about other leadership and management training program topics they believe will improve their leadership skills and capabilities.

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About the Author

Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in North Carolina and works from her office in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.