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Leadership Development Needs to be Real to be Effective

The greatest fear of anyone responsible for a training budget is that they will invest a significant amount in a development programme for limited or no benefit.  As I said in an earlier post, leadership is about what people say and do and how that behaviour effectively influences the behaviour of others.  So, if a leadership development programme is really effective it will result in a change in the behaviour of those who attend it i.e. they will take some form of action that means they do or say something different as a result.

You can’t force people to change their behaviour. People will only adapt their behaviour voluntarily.  So, the first important point is to create development experiences that will appeal to people and persuade them both intellectually and emotionally that behavioural change is both possible and advantageous for them and for the organisation.  One very powerful way of doing that is through the use of drama because it has an impact on both the intellect and the emotions.

Forum Theatre

I have had extremely positive results from working with professional actors using a technique known as “Forum Theatre”.

The essence of Forum Theatre is that participants get the opportunity to observe an interaction and learn by analysing and summarising what they saw.  The participants’ role is to challenge and advise the actor-in-role about how to improve their behaviour and the actor-in-role then acts out these suggestions.  Participants can then see what impact the new behaviour has on the person they are interacting with.  If a suggestion doesn’t work, it is rejected. The actor can rewind the scene to the point before the ineffective suggestion and try another idea. If the advice does work, the actor-in-role continues with the scene, taking more suggestions and building towards a successful outcome. The participants have therefore served as a ‘collective coach’ and they have all observed the behaviours that have been successful.

Having helped participants realise the benefits of changing their behaviour, you then need to help them put it into practice.  We all know that change is hard.  It is hard on a personal level to change what we say and what we do and, when we are taking those steps to deliberately have an impact on others it can be downright scary.

Real-Play

So, the second important point is to work through real challenges and examples during activities and discussion so that the content is relevant to the participants and real progress can occur during the workshop.

Again, the use of professional actors can provide an invaluable opportunity for participants to try out new behaviours and hopefully learn to develop their skills after receiving constructive feedback from the actor, the facilitator and possibly colleagues if they are present.

I have had particular success in using our actor colleagues to perform “Real-Plays” with our participants.  Real play is a method in which the participant briefs the actor on the character of the person they are going to be interacting with so that they can represent them in the discussion and the participant can practice a face-to-face situation that represents real life, for example, a difficult performance discussion or a coaching session.  As one participant on a programme commented “Being able to practice scenarios and difficult conversations with actors was a rare and valuable opportunity.”

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