Author Profile Picture

Antoinette Oglethorpe

Antoinette Oglethorpe Ltd

Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Author specialising in Leadership Development and Career Management

Read more from Antoinette Oglethorpe

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Leadership development needs to be real to be effective


The greatest fear of anyone responsible for a training budget is that they will invest a significant amount in a development programme for limited or no benefit. As I said in an earlier post, leadership is about what people say and do and how that behaviour effectively influences the behaviour of others. So, if a leadership development programme is really effective it will result in a change in the behaviour of those who attend it i.e. they will take some form of action that means they do or say something different as a result.

You can't force people to change their behaviour. People will only adapt their behaviour voluntarily. So, the first important point is to create development experiences that will appeal to people and persuade them both intellectually and emotionally that behavioural change is both possible and advantageous for them and for the organisation. One very powerful way of doing that is through the use of drama because it has an impact on both the intellect and the emotions.

I have had extremely positive results from working with professional actors using a technique known as “Forum Theatre”.

The essence of Forum Theatre is that participants get the opportunity to observe an interaction and learn by analysing and summarising what they saw. The participants’ role is to challenge and advise the actor-in-role about how to improve their behaviour and the actor-in-role then acts out these suggestions. Participants can then see what impact the new behaviour has on the person they are interacting with. If a suggestion doesn't work, it is rejected. The actor can rewind the scene to the point before the ineffective suggestion and try another idea. If the advice does work, the actor-in-role continues with the scene, taking more suggestions and building towards a successful outcome. The participants have therefore served as a 'collective coach' and they have all observed the behaviours that have been successful.

Having helped participants realise the benefits of changing their behaviour, you then need to help them put it into practice. We all know that change is hard. It is hard on a personal level to change what we say and what we do and, when we are taking those steps to deliberately have an impact on others it can be downright scary.  So, the second important point is to work through real challenges and examples during activities and discussion so that the content is relevant to the participants and real progress can occur during the workshop.

Again, the use of professional actors can provide an invaluable opportunity for participants to try out new behaviours and hopefully learn to develop their skills after receiving constructive feedback from the actor, the facilitator and possibly observing colleagues if they are present.

I have had particular success in using our actor colleagues to perform “Real-Plays” with our participants. Real play is a method in which the participant briefs the actor on the character of the person they are going to be interacting with so that they can represent them in the discussion and the participant can practice a face-to-face situation that represents real life, for example, a difficult performance discussion or a coaching session. As one participant on a programme commented “Being able to practice scenarios and difficult conversations with actors was a rare and valuable opportunity.”  

2 Responses

  1. Forum Theatre- Proving it was a success?


    It would be good to know more around the success which this method had. What different did it make? How did you know it made a difference? What change was observed?  Was it sustained and how did you measure it? 
  2. Success as related to purpose

    Hi jonesna2,

    I believe it is important to evaluate success in relation to intended purpose.  As I describe in the post, the intended purpose of Forum theatre was to persuade participants both intellectually and emotionally that behavioural change is both possible and advantageous for them and for the organisation.  Forum Theatre allows people to see (and feel) the impact that different ways of behaving can have on the other person and the situation overall.  "Proof" of its success was the feedback from the participants and their 100% participation in the subsequent real-plays that allowed them to try out new behaviours themselves in preparation for a real situation they were going to tackle.  The success of those was judged on the feedback participants gave about how they had actually handled those situations.  Results ranged from, at the very least, being pleased that they had initiated a difficult conversation to a belief that a disciplinary and grievance case had been avoided with all the time and costs that would have incurred.

    I hope that helps.


Author Profile Picture
Antoinette Oglethorpe

Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Author specialising in Leadership Development and Career Management

Read more from Antoinette Oglethorpe

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!