If you look online for information on leadership development, you’ll soon discover that much of it is classroom centered. Formal leadership development education generally requires readings, classroom lectures, and exercises. They are then expected to take that information back with them to the workplace and exercise real-world leadership without substantial practice.
If that sounds strange to you, you’re not alone. Classroom learning has its place, but research shows that leadership development education works better when it’s experiential—that is, when participants get to try out leadership strategies and see how others react. As thought leader Deborah Rowland noted in the Harvard Business Review, neuroscience research has concluded that people learn best through experiences, especially new experiences. Just like the old apprenticeship model, or modern internships, practical education can help you truly understand what works.
Leadership Development in Place
This focus on practical experience is good news for busy law firm leaders. There’s some value to finding the time for two weeks away from the office, but in a small organization, that value is not financial. When you can’t break away from the office, you can try out leadership strategies in place.
First, as with any major shift in your strategy, make sure you’re truly committed to change. One reason people leave the office for training is that a change in location can also change habits. You won’t have that, so you’ll need to think honestly about whether you’re falling back on habits, especially habits that you’ve already decided aren’t working.
Second, get outside your comfort zone. To learn from experience, you must have a new experience, which means stretching yourself a bit. Uncomfortable supervising people? Bring someone in on a project you’d normally complete yourself. Prefer to make decisions alone? Have an employee town hall, and genuinely consider what you hear.
Third, be a Renaissance lawyer. You don’t need to be in a classroom to learn things—after all, babies learn to walk and talk long before they get to school. Whatever skills you’d like to improve, there are probably books out there about improving them.
Fourth, bring in a mentor if you can. Feedback is an important part of learning, and if you’re the boss, it may be tough to get honest feedback from your employees. An outside perspective can also be invaluable for identifying issues you’re so used to that you hadn’t even considered them.
To Your Continued Success,