Building and sustaining a successful business in today’s global economy is harder than ever. Organizations must continually navigate complex situations with agility. This demands quality leadership and a dependable system to continually develop leadership abilities within an organization.
In an effort to develop leaders and increase talent retention, corporations spend millions of dollars on training opportunities. All too frequently, however, conventional options in this arena do not actually prepare employees to be leaders into today’s complex business environment.
Drawbacks of common leadership development models
Many training workshops and corporate retreats are described as leadership courses, but fail to deliver on their stated goal. Participants are relegated to uncomfortable chairs in dimly lit meeting rooms where they are kept well within their safe zones — there is little mixing between departments, and any available free time is generally spent in overpriced hotel bars. This kind of experience does little to prompt any real growth or transformation, especially as many larger companies employ the same training programs year after year. This leads to stagnancy and numbness among corporate management.
Other leadership courses claim to produce visionaries, but concurrently profess that true leadership is the domain of someone greater than the participant. Only via the überleader’s specific book, course, or coaching system can one achieve such an enlightened and inspirational status themselves. There is little acknowledgement of personal needs, potential, or passions; rather, participants are trained to adopt an alleged one-size-fits-all system that, in reality, may not fit them at all. Companies invest millions of dollars driving personnel through these workshops, denying their employees’ innate potential for organic growth in favor of adopting prescriptive models of dubious effectiveness.
The importance of lived experiences to learning
A 2016 Harvard Business Review examination of leadership reminds us that “we learn most (and retain that learning as changed behavior) when the emotional circuits within our brain are activated. Visceral, lived experiences best activate these circuits; they prompt us to notice both things in the environment and what’s going on inside ourselves. If leadership development begins in the head, leaders will stay in their heads. We can’t simply think our way out of a habit. But in experience, and novel experience in particular, our intentional mind can be more engaged as we make conscious decisions about our behavior.”
Leadership is not something that is unpacked from a box or delivered in a ready-made package. It is not discovered by those who surround themselves with creature comforts or by those who fail to interact with people espousing alternative points of view. Real leadership is the product of personal transformation, and thankfully, our planet is a wealth of opportunity for those with the grit and determination to seek out such an experience.
Harnessing global engagement to develop leadership capabilities
Our changing world is continually creating novel challenges for our global society. Across every continent on our planet, environmental and social crises are becoming numbingly common. These challenges, however, can supply the platforms necessary for meaningful leadership development: transformational experiences that draw on the innate characteristics of those involved, and that return leaders who have grown from overcoming their own inner obstacles.
The nature of crisis is to be dramatic, unpredictable, and difficult. Indeed, the gravity of such a situation is what makes it a crisis. It is in such a crucible that true leaders are forged. Writing in the Harvard Business Review in 2016, leadership expert Deborah Roland states that “leaders in today’s world are intuitive, dynamic, collaborative, and grounded in here-and-now emotional intelligence.” Those who would rise to lead in this day and age must meet the problems facing our planet head-on and let these experiences engulf them. Those that undergo such transformation will not only find themselves uniquely prepared to confront the challenges of the modern age, but will inspire others to join their cause. Indeed, their magnetism will demand it.
The experiential education that stems from engaging with modern environmental and social challenges offers an opportunity for truly transformational leadership because it is unboxed. It is unchained, unpredictable, and organic. Rather than building new walls, these off-the-grid experiences break down barriers by forcing participants to engage and to be fully present with their colleagues and their environment. Rather than further institutionalizing elitism through certificates and luxury resorts, these models demand vulnerability, communication, and discomfort. Such experiences are idiosyncratic by nature; in fact, it is precisely their lack of a formulaic approach that makes them valuable. They do not force participants through a system or modality, knocking off the corners of individuality and rounding groups down to a lowest common denominator in the process. Rather, they allow each participant to discover within themselves the truths that are illuminated through direct connection with community, immediacy, and a greater purpose.
Modern leaders must be more than effective strategists and decision makers; they must be inspirational, agile, and accessible role models who evoke a sense of pride and loyalty among their co-workers. Those strong enough to authentically engage with modern environmental and social challenges will have the opportunity to transform into stronger, more inspiring leaders. Such individuals will infuse their organizational cultures with the values and relationships that solve problems, attract talent, and catalyze progress on a global scale.