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Self-funding leadership development: A new delivery model


In difficult times leadership is even more important to sustain and improve organisational performance. Development programmes are expensive so why not make these self funding? Andy Radka makes the case.

What can happen now? 

Traditional leadership development can be a 'sheep dip' with everyone receiving exactly the same content, or a 'tick box' approach against a generic framework - whether this is relevant to their learning styles, personal needs, or the organisation's needs - or not. Any payback on this substantial investment is often seen as being much further 'downstream' - to be measured later, if at all. Participants are 'provided' with leadership training packed with all the latest concepts believed to be appropriate. This means they rarely feel obliged to take responsibility for their own learning and improved performance. There can also be a disconnect between the development programme and the 'proper jobs' of the participants. Participants find it almost impossible to apply their learning in practice. The overall result is that they are criticised for lack of motivation while the training provider can also be criticised for not having a live stake in ensuring new skill deployment or sustainable behaviour change.

What should happen

It is very difficult if not impossible to 'create' a leader in a classroom. Leadership is not a theory to be taught - it is a practice which must be learned and appreciated through experience of actually 'leading'. Leadership development is about taking action, learning from this and gaining useful insights. Development needs to be more immediate, measurable and linked to a real return for the organisation and the individuals. Commissioning should begin by asking which change projects requiring leadership are priorities and then asking how leaders can be developed while they are delivering these.
"Leadership is not a theory to be taught - it is a practice which must be learned and appreciated through experience of actually 'leading'. Leadership development is about taking action, learning from this and gaining useful insights."
The content of a leadership programme should be driven by both the needs and learning preferences of the participants, taking responsibility for their learning, and their business projects. This would be embedded in formal contracts of learning and project delivery before the programme commences. People are then part of a dynamic win-win development programme - learning as they deliver. The connection between the programme and the business is then highly visible - which increases the focus on delivery by the participant group. There should be project and programme sponsorship at the highest level to ensure both generative learning and action take place with steering group meetings regularly checking progress on projects and learning.

The big idea

The philosophy of this more dynamic model for self funding leadership development is simple and powerful. Using Action Learning principles the participants in each group bring their experience and skills to the table to address a real business challenge and the facilitator helps them to tackle this by providing leading edge thinking, concepts and tools on demand to encourage learning. Where this potent mixture meets lies the opportunity for reflective insight, leadership learning and measured, added value for the organisation and the individual. This helps to address the challenge of difficult times by linking leadership development programmes directly to measurable positive outcomes and value for money.  

So what are the differences?

Existing model
Self-funding leadership model
Participants are scheduled to attend or it is an option for their personal development plan. Their leadership competence is expected to improve, but often without a direct clear route back into outcomes for the organisation. Programme objectives covering learning and action are not fully embedded in personal performance objectives with line managers or within the strategic plans of the organisation.
Participants sign a contract which recognises the 'win win' nature of the deal. They get personal development and the opportunity to enhance their CV. The return to the company is spelled out – delivery of the project to pay for the programme in either cost reduction and/or service improvement. Project objectives and learning objectives are integrated within the line manager appraisal process. Project is part of the organisational strategic plan.
Participants are provided with leadership modules and expected to 'learn' during these days and then deploy in the workplace. However there is no 'vehicle' or process to provide a focussed starting point for taking action and applying their individual and group learning inside the organisation.
A suitable project is selected which will demand leadership and also 'pay' for the programme. Each cohort will collaborate on this to encourage team work and cross-departmental working. The project must have real impact and the group will be able to deliver it while developing themselves as leaders.
The facilitator delivers the programme content. There is little scope to vary the content to allow the participants to take responsibility for deciding relevant content. Everyone gets the same 'treatment' whether they require it or not.
The facilitator becomes more of a coach to help overcome 'learning anxieties' and provide a gateway to learning new concepts and theories. The learning input is driven by the learning preferences and requirements of the group and the project. The facilitator is a catalyst within the group.
Existing resources and capabilities are neglected in favour of the latest approach. The organisation has a long wish list of the latest concepts, tools and approaches to be included. People are expected to learn these inside the programme and deploy outside it.
Previous organisational learning resources are factored in. New virtual learning and collaboration approaches are used which can involve others inside and outside the programme. Participants take responsibility to seek out or request appropriate learning resources.
The provider delivers the agreed programme content without a full commercial focus on the impact within the client organisation - in terms of behaviour change and new skills deployment.
The provider contract includes a clear role as collaborator to assure delivery. The fee is split to reflect this to ensure the Client only pays for completion when happy with delivery of the agreed outputs. This will maintain a focus on the delivery of outcomes.
Works on a supply side approach. The organisation supplies the generic specification for participants and the provider supplies the materials, content and the delivery.
Works on a demand side approach by firstly identifying which challenging project the organisation needs delivered. Participants then identify the learning support they need to develop their leadership skills to enable delivery.
Andy Radka is a director of Creative Partners. Andy has substantial leadership experience as a successful operational and general manager. This provides real credibility when encouraging others to change and improve their performance as leaders. You can contact him through LinkedIn or Twitter

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