When someone says the words “leadership training program,” big seminars like Dale Carnegie Leadership Training or those put on by the American Management Association pop into mind. Those can be great experiences for some; but they are a small, small slice of what’s possible with leadership training.

Today I’m going to share with you how to use self-directed learning and blended learning (with video) to bring leadership skills to more of your employees more quickly, and with a higher return.

Wait, Leadership Training Beyond the Big Seminars?

Again, there is nothing wrong with the courses put on by Dale Carnegie or the American Management Association. They have been professionally developed and time tested. But they are a little like the one contractor in town that only builds mansions: their work is great for a few people, but to build a thriving city, you need people to build homes for everyone.

Consider the format and process. A small group of executives is formally invited by HR or their manager to participate in one of these seminars. The group travels to a location and spends a couple of days in the classroom, studying a set syllabus for leadership training. They then return and are expected to implement what they have learned. How does this process leave people out?

  • Exclusivity. These seminars cost, and seats are limited, so HR departments usually send only a few people at a time. Those people are usually up-and-coming executives; middle managers, project leaders, or people who simply aspire to leadership in the future are routinely left out.
  • Cost. These seminars are expensive (which is part of the reason that invitations are exclusive). The return you get on them is low once you consider the cost per person trained compared with the overall benefit to the organization.
  • Travel. Many major metropolitan areas host these seminars, but if you are not in one that does, travel will be involved. Time out of the office and loss productivity adds to the cost, too.

Put these together, and the audience for your leadership training program is limited, which also limits the scope of the effectiveness.  

So why not widen the audience?

Widening the Audience for Leadership Training

Think about who typically gets those invitations to leadership training. They are usually the “obvious” candidates, your HiPOs and your up-and-coming leaders. Now consider other people in your organization who might benefit from a little bit (or a lot!) of leadership training:

  • Someone gets put into a role where they need to lead a one-time project. What do they need to know? How quickly does this person need to learn it?
  • A new hire comes on board as a front-line employee but has hopes and dreams of making it to management some day. How do you lay out that path for them?
  • An employee is in a role that does not require managing people. But you notice that other employees often come to them for advice and mentorship. How can you support this kind of informal leadership?

Once you start considering these kinds of situations, you begin seeing many, many more opportunities for honing leadership skills. To recycle my metaphor from above: You’ll see that, to build a city, you need to do so house by house. You can’t just throw up a few mansions and hope that everything will fall into place around them!

So the question now becomes one of logistics: How do you get quality leadership training into more hands? (or build more of those houses?)

Using Off-the-shelf Content for Self-Directed Leadership Training 

Self-directed learning is any process or system that allows individual learners to direct their own learning, depending on their individual needs and interests. Our approach is to enable self-directed learning with a library of off-the-shelf content, organized in an easy-to-use LMS and made accessible anytime, anywhere.

Self-directed learning can allow a wider audience to pursue leadership training, and they can do so over a much longer period of time too, preparing themselves for future projects and leadership roles. Some examples:

  • A normally quiet and introverted IT director is put in charge of migrating a data center. They have to coordinate a team of people with different personalities from different departments. They need pointers on leading a team and setting goals now (right at the point of need).
  • A marketing professional would be an excellent candidate for department lead in your organization, but they avoid even the suggestion. It turns out that they are terrified of speaking and presenting in front of others, something that is required from a head of marketing. This fear is holding them back from further leadership roles. You want to suggest some content to give them the skills and confidence they need without drawing attention to this fact with a public training.
  • A worker in your warehouse is interested in what it takes to become a floor manager. That employee can take the initiative and start exploring topics in management on their own so that, when the opportunity arises, they can be ready to step into that role.
  • A senior engineer does not have a management role per se but has been with your company for decades. Because of the years of experience, other engineers come to them for advice. Most leadership topics at a large seminar-style training would not be of interest, but you feel they could benefit from a crash-course on mentoring.

Those are just a few examples of cases where self-directed learning would make sense for your leadership training program. In each of these cases, the employee can focus on just those leadership topics that he they need and get the required training through off-the-shelf content that you can deliver at just the right time (rather than waiting for the next seminar to come around).

Of course, you can use self-directed training for your more traditional HiPOs as well. For example, our off-the-shelf training library includes some highly relevant courses such as Becoming a Great Leader, Emotional Intelligence, Mistakes Leaders Make, Transformational Leadership, and more. I’ve found that, even for employees who have access to more traditional forms of training, having on-demand library of training videos is great for brushing up on the skills they have already learned, or even reviewing topics before hearing a presentation in a more traditional training context.

What About Blended Learning?

Learning via video does not need to be an all-or-nothing thing. A blended-learning approach that incorporates both self-directed learning via videos and instructor-led training can be the strongest approach. (For more on blended learning, I recommend our eBook, The Therapeutic Guide to Blended Learning.)

My suggestions above, that HiPOs can use a library of training videos to review topics before or after more traditional instructor-led training, is one example. Video can also be used to teach skills in the first place, allowing instructors to focus on things like practice activities, role-playing, and instructor-led conversation.

A modern LMS can add a social element to your leadership training, too; for example, you could create a leadership group in your LMS, allowing people to share content, watch videos, and discuss together. This will allow you to train a whole cohort of leaders, year-round. Talk about good succession planning!

Building that kind of bench strength does not happen overnight...that’s the point. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Just as great cities take time to grow, so do great organizations with great leaders. Rome didn’t start with grand palaces, either, but with more humble homes. So be sure you are empowering ALL your employees and build those houses, together.

Additional Resources


Kathy Irish

Written by Kathy Irish

Kathy joined ej4 in 2007 as our first Instructional Designer. She has over 15 years’ experience in Human Resource Management, Training and Organizational Development. In addition to managing and planning ej4’s yearly new content development, Kathy also oversees all the production on updates (both legal and style-wise) to current off-the-shelf content.

OTS_Louie (1)

Want to explore our award-winning content for free? Sign up today for a 15-day trial of our LMS, Thinkzoom, to unlock 1,000s of courses. No credit card needed.

Start My Free Trial