Learning leaders needn’t feel wedded to traditional leadership development solutions to make a lasting impact on high potential talent. For female partners and directors at Deloitte Consulting, LLP, for example, a trip to a battlefield – pastureland, history and a lot of walking included – offered quite an education.
These leaders need to be prepared to take on executive leadership roles in terms of the clients they serve as well as the internal operation of the firm itself, and a different level of “stickiness” was needed, said China Widener, strategy and operations principal for state and local government at Deloitte.
Deloitte’s Women Initiative offers a variety of leadership development programs, but found the particular inventiveness they were looking for in a partnership with The United States Army War College. It might seem like an unlikely pairing: A commercial firm and an institution dedicated to providing professional military education, but Widener said the ultimate goals are the same “in terms of preparedness for leadership in what can be or can become difficult circumstances and situations and to help people understand that.”
Widener, who participated in the two-day program this spring, said what made the experience so powerful was how it engaged physical abilities, cognition and emotional memory in a series of events. As part of a staff ride at Gettysburg National Military Park, a military historian took the group of leaders to key locations on the historic battlefield where Union and Confederate soldiers fought in what was thought to be a pivotal point in the American Civil War. The women climbed the same hills the soldiers climbed during the three-day battle, and they crossed the same stretch of land traveled during the Last March of the Iron Brigade of the Union Army. “So you’re getting this physical memory aspect that’s connected to a cognitive conversation about here’s the circumstance and the context that was happening at the time,” she said.
Once in the setting, leaders were asked a series of questions. Some were about the decisions the general and divisions commanders made during the conflict; others dug into what decisions program participants would make with the facts they currently had. “We all know how Gettysburg turned out, we all know the history; we get what the ultimate outcome was, but what we don’t always appreciate and get are all the things that contributed to that outcome along the way,” Widener explained.
The group spent the second day bringing what they’d experienced and learned on the staff ride into the present – essentially how they might implement the lessons they learned in their current roles. This also became a time for leaders to gather and share feedback on situations people in the group were actually facing.
Widener said during the two-day program, she kept a list of key concepts she wanted to remember and examine differently when she got back to the office. She said the experience was a game changer in how she leads. The concept of “ruthless consistency” was among the values discussed during the battlefield visit that resonated with her.
Gen. Robert Lee had one goal: engage and destroy the Union Army, “and every decision that he made, from the South all the way through the North was predicated on this notion of ‘that is my one goal.’” His objective aside, Lee had to make some tough decisions, said Widener, amidst competing priorities and events taking place as well people who didn’t agree with his strategy.
“From truly an executive management level, you can’t let what’s happening around you overtake the goal that you’ve set relative to what you need to achieve for the organization,” she said.
Sending leaders to a historical site may not be an option for some organizations. But there were some important qualities about the battlefield experience that CLOs can learn from when developing or contracting out for a high-impact leadership development program:
- Create an opportunity for participants to identify gaps in their own skills set.
- Value programs that engage more than one of participants’ five senses. If the experience is classroom-based, look for offerings with a variety of activities.
- Make sure the program offers lessons participants can apply in their current roles, not just in the future.
As learning officers look at programs, Widener said look for opportunities that aren’t necessarily what one might believe has the most relevance to the company’s leadership needs, and get to the underlying core set of concepts being addressed. “The beauty is you get completely different conversations and discussions that make everybody richer for the experience in that regard,” she said.
Bravetta Hassell is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Comment below, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.Filed under: Leadership DevelopmentTagged with: leadership development