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Experiential Training for Leaders: Methods that Work

By Dave Root on November 2, 2016

Individuals at every level in a business benefit from ongoing training, including leaders. Experiential training is one of the most effective ways to deliver new concepts in a manner that is both memorable and engaging. To make experiential learning effective, it must have an impact on real-world problems and solutions. To do this, it has to meet the following criteria:

  • Mirror reality - The activity must be a reflection of the real situations that participants encounter in the workplace.
  • Produce predictable learning - You must know in advance what new skills or concepts the participants will learn from the experiential training event.
  • Visceral involvement - When participants are fully immersed and engaged they form the strongest memories and absorb more new knowledge.

Experiential learning can be applied at all levels of the business from basic time management skills to learning how to improve internal processes. Regardless of the concepts you want employees to learn, there are some standard methods you can apply.

The experiential training methods you would use to teach leadership skills are the same methods you would apply for any other type of skill you want employees to learn. Here’s what to look for:

Disguise the Real World but Replicate the Business

We know that experiential training exercises mirror reality, however, it is important that the scenario is nothing like the environment that leaders encounter on a daily basis. The actions and processes must replicate the business, but it has to be done in a way that the business reality is disguised.

An example for leadership training might be acting as the sheriff in the Wild West. The experiential training exercise should replicate the challenges one would face as a leader in the workplace -- time management, making quick decisions, conflict resolution, etc. -- but the setting removes the participants from their daily surroundings and allows them to take action without real consequences.

Use Principle-Based Design

Break down larger goals into principles so that they are easier to absorb and so that participants can experience each component in the training. For example, if the goal of the experiential training is to develop better time management skills, you might break it down into each of the following principles:

  • Identifying barriers to effective time management
  • Planning and organizing time for personal success
  • Understanding that activity does not equal productivity

As the sheriff in the Wild West, a leader must learn how to successfully manage their time while juggling a lot of various responsibilities. By learning the key principles of time management (or any other topic), participants can better apply their new knowledge when they return to the real world.   

Learn by Doing in a Safe Environment

The ability to take action without real consequences is an essential component of experiential training for leaders. The cornerstone of experiential training is learning by doing. Throughout the course of the event, participants must take actions, and those actions have consequences. However, because you have created a safe environment where those consequences do not apply to the real world, participants can fail, try again, and learn from their mistakes.

Using the sheriff and time management examples from above, the sheriff might discover that one of the barriers to time management is that they have to personally handle every issue that arises, no matter how large or small. In the experiential learning exercise, they have the freedom to solve this problem by appointing a deputy and seeing the consequences of that action without the real-world pressures of transferring responsibility to another person.     

Experiential Training Methods for Leaders

The primary difference in experiential training for leaders versus other individuals is the desired outcomes. When it comes to leadership, there are various experiential training goals you can reach depending on where each leader is on their journey.

Leaders in the Pipeline

If you have identified potential leaders, take advantage of the time you have before they step into a supervisory role to teach them leadership concepts like:

  • Building effective relationships
  • Managing time
  • Communicating and listening
  • Fostering collaboration within a team
  • Managing conflict in the workplace
  • Reducing stress
Maximize the impact of leadership development with the help of experiential  learning. Learn more in this guide.

Managers and Supervisors

Individuals who already have direct reports can benefit from the practical leadership skills that will help them apply those concepts in the real world:

  • Creating a culture of accountability
  • Maximizing productivity
  • Building and leading teams
  • Communicating for impact
  • Coaching individuals to achieve results

Seasoned Leaders

High-level leaders may have reached their career goals, but this doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from experiential training to continually hone their leadership skills, including:

  • Maintaining personal and organizational accountability
  • Accelerating performance at every level
  • Involving all stakeholders in decision-making
  • Delegating and empowering
  • Fostering high-performance teamwork
  • Mastering organizational communication
  • Linking strategy and tactics
  • Leading an organizational transition

By applying the proven experiential training methods of mirroring reality, using principle-based design, and creating a safe place to test new ideas, you can improve leadership skills no matter where you are in your career.

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Dave joined Eagle’s Flight in 1991 after having spent a number of years with a Toronto-based accounting firm. Since that time, he has held a number of posts within the company, primarily in the areas of Operations, Finance, Legal, and IT. In his current role as both Chief Financial Officer and President, Global Business, Dave is focused on ensuring the company’s ongoing financial health as well as growing its global market share. In pursuing the latter, Dave’s wealth of experience and extensive business knowledge has made him a valued partner and trusted advisor to both our global licensees and multinational clientele.

About Eagle's Flight

Founded in 1988, Eagle's Flight has earned its reputation as a global leader in the development and delivery of business-relevant, experiential learning programs that achieve specific training objectives and lasting behavior changes.

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