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PhD, Union Institute / Doctor of Social Science, University of Leicester

Covid-19 is certainly proving to be a game-changer – and we still don’t know to what extent it will affect our ability to develop leaders. But one thing is for sure: there are permanent changes in store for us all.

So, here’s the message: these aren’t obstacles to overcome; they’re opportunities to embrace. Let’s explore how.

In so many situations, we’re used to delivering training the old-fashioned way – with an instructor in front of a classroom full of students. And sure, we’ve used computer-and-internet-based methods to replicate that experience (Zoom, Zoom). But we’re not limited to that; there are better ways.

Our usual way of training – traditional classroom, virtual classroom, even computer-based courses – are all built around the same model: the teacher (real or computerized) imparts knowledge to the student who (hopefully) is paying attention to what he/she is being told. But adults learn better when they can manage much of the learning content and process. So, instead of being the “sage on the stage,” let’s considering being the “guide on the side.” Let’s give the learner more control over where, when, and even what she/he needs to do to learn…with our guidance of course. And all of it done with the restrictions we’re experiencing these days. Let me give you an example.

I have a client interested in improving first-line supervisors’ leadership skills, particularly new supervisors. But her organization is clustered in five processing factories located around the country, none of whom have a built-in leadership development capability. (She relies on her organization’s headquarters for what little leadership development she can provide to her supervisors.)  So, what I proposed – and what she agreed to – was a program using blended learning strategies that could support her dispersed organization and employee base. (Employees are almost all teleworking full-time right now in these “knowledge factories” she runs. This solution requires no particular expertise in leadership development or training delivery and can be done 100% virtually. Here it is.

Participants take a series of online, self-paced courses covering a competency set selected by my client’s senior leadership. (These courses are already available through the corporate university.) After taking each course, the supervisor and his/her manager sit down and have a conversation about the learning – using a set of discussion questions provided to the manager. The manager can then reinforce the learning, re-direct it if necessary, and give it an immediate organizational context and application. No courses to attend, no travel, little time spent away from production, extraordinarily little cost, and no particular expertise required. Yet each of these “factories” now as a leadership development capability they didn’t have before!

With or without the impact of the Covid-19 virus, these things were a good idea. But it took a sudden change like that to break out of the paradigm my client’s organization was stuck in. You know how they say something is a feature, not a bug? Well, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is a bug, but it can help us bring out some exceptionally good features in our work if we let it.