Sunday, November 8, 2009

NYLC and the Move to Hands On Leadership Learning

There are several ways to approach “teaching” leadership. One is what we experience in this class: studying leadership theory and practice from a bird’s eye view. By gathering others’ opinions on it, we are able to form our own. Another approach is practiced in many career fields: leadership development through training.

An example, as I mentioned in class, is the National Young Leaders Conference held yearly in Washington, D.C. According to their website, NYLC is “designed to instruct and enrich promising students in a hands-on, experiential atmosphere while preparing them for a lifetime of leadership.” This program is made possible by a staff of people who believe that developing young leaders is key to the future success of our world. My own personal experience in the program placed me in uncomfortable situations in which I could either hone my leadership skills quickly, or I could stand by the wayside. Lucky for me, some sort of leadership seed was already in my soul, and I love my experience learning more about myself and my abilities.

Leadership development is not a new concept, but it seems that in recent years it has been refurbished in order to accommodate a new generation of workaholic overachievers. Developing leaders has become crucial for a business to not just move forward, but for it to beat out its competition in every circumstance. According to Robert Fulmer, leadership development programs have gone from purely listening activities to almost entirely hands on, applied learning (1997). This makes me wonder: if someone is providing future leaders with activities and hypothetical situations in which to practice their skills, mustn’t they have those experiences themselves?

Part of the challenge of this new form of development is finding well qualified leaders who not only have the ability to share their knowledge, but to give up other commitments in order to educate. Fulmer also mentions the problem of having to pull people away from their jobs to participate in training. If the program is costing the company time and money, it must be proven successful, which brings us to the question: how do we know if leadership development program is a success? For the NYLC, for example, I can attest that I felt the program was a success. But besides that, what concrete metrics could be developed to measure the success of such a program? If we think of NYLC as a company, is it enough to say that they do not lose money and the have satisfied customers?

There are a few questions in this post, but to summarize, is it possible to ensure that experienced leaders are teaching successful development programs, and if so, how?

If you are interested in seeing how rigorous NYLC is, check out a sample schedule here.


  1. Meghan, you bring up some great points in the post- i.e. how can we best measure a LDP's effectiveness. Evaluating leadership development programs is definitely difficult to measure. In spite of this, I think surveys- if designed well- can be useful tools for evaluating the programs. The company should identify their goals before designing the survey to best measure the outcome and program value. The surveys could then be administered to participants both pre- and post-program to measure the lasting effects. Because leadership development should impact the organization at large, I think the survey items should assess the degree of “development” or change that occurs at both the individual level as well as at the organizational level. Since observable behaviors are most indicative of actual change and development, I think the items should be mostly behavioral in nature. The survey could also include open-ended items to capture employee’s individual reactions to the program. The organization could also have HR conduct performance appraisals both before and after the program to evaluate it’s effectiveness. Then the company could test if there was a correlation between findings of “development” or change in survey results and HR’s performance appraisals.

    I’m curious to see what other evaluation methods people suggest besides surveys!

  2. Meghan, I would like to share my thoughts on one of the questions that you posed- "if someone is providing future leaders with activities and hypothetical situations in which to practice their skills, must they have those experiences themselves?"- I think if the leader/trainer has gone through these experiences himself then it not only adds to his credibility but also helps him to empathise with the problems these future leaders/participants will face while developing the necessary skills. However,I think the leader can demonstrate a good understanding and skills to deal with problems even without experiencing them directly. For example, a leader in a learning organization (Senge)has to be a learner himself and help members to learn continuoulsy too. He helps them see the patterns underlying problems and also take a systemic perspective. Such a leader, while teaching the members necessary skills, hones his skills too.

    So to conclude, the trainer of these future leaders, who I am assuming is a leader himself, may not have experience with all kinds of problems but will have the skills necessary to deal with them and the ability to learn continuously.


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