Leadership skills are not developed in classrooms.
Yes, leadership models and theories can be learned in classrooms. Activities and exercises can be conducted to reinforce the learning and practice. But becoming a leader doesn’t happen in the classroom. It’s about what you do outside of the classroom.
Years ago, I participated in Leadership Broward, an educational program designed to prepare business leaders for roles as community leaders. After being a participant, I came back for a few sessions to share the principles of servant leadership with subsequent classes. It made me realize that I wasn’t teaching these business professionals how to be a leader. I was sharing with them the concept of servant leadership. I was facilitating a conversation. And it was up to them to use the information in their community projects as part of developing their leadership skills.
I’m starting to see more organizations take this approach. They’re building in a service component to their leadership development programs. It’s great for participants and it can support the organization’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. A few months back I read about Dow Chemical having a service component to their global leadership development program. Participants spend one week in places such as Ghana and Ethiopia addressing community needs.
But building a service component into your leadership development program doesn’t have to involve going to another country. I’ve always worked for companies that allowed me to volunteer my time. Whether it was being president of HR Florida or an usher at Cincinnati’s ATP World Tour, I learned something about being a leader and part of a team. I’ve even worked for companies that expected me to give back to the community and industry. It was viewed as giving back to our supporters (in addition to my own professional development.)
One company that I know gets this concept is Ultimate Software. They did something very cool at this year’s Connections user conference. They set aside a few hours on the program agenda for a community service project. Conference participants were able to stop by and assemble over 5,000 hygiene kits for Clean the World, an Orlando-based organization that helps provide soap and cleanliness products to those in need. Frankly, I’d love to see more conferences use their resources this way. It benefits the community and it helps build leadership skills.
Don’t get me wrong. Providing leadership development education is important and necessary. But for leadership skills to stick, it has to go beyond the classroom.
Image taken by Sharlyn Lauby while strolling Fort Lauderdale Beach1