Hitting the sweet spot in leadership training


In my career, I’ve been through several leadership training programs and have read many articles on career development. Some were great … some not so much. What I’ve noticed, though, is that the successful ones always seemed to feature the following:

  • Hands-on activities as well as theory
  • Access to engaged peers on a similar journey
  • Respect for the experience of participants

With so many training options to choose from, it’s satisfying when you participate in a program that has the right combination of factors and qualities to give you a rewarding experience and an arsenal of skills—the leadership training sweet spot.

Like other learning, leadership development happens in the 70/20/10 framework: 70% experiential—learning by doing; 20% social—learning from others; 10% classroom—formal learning. OCLC’s leadership programs follow this model and include management development, emerging and new leader programs, online learning, stretch assignments, and learning in place.

Exposure to these programs—as well as our CEO, Skip Prichard’s interest in cultivating more servant leaders—helped me identify what I really appreciated about the American Library Association’s Emerging Leaders Program. And how it managed to avoid the pitfalls of so many similar offerings.

Make it real

It’s essential to tie leadership development to real projects that improve learning and create change. Adults typically remember just 10% of what they hear in the classroom versus nearly two-thirds when they learn by doing. Virtual engagement is what I do for OCLC as a Community Product Manager in the Online Community Center. My Emerging Leaders assignment—develop a toolkit to help leaders improve engagement for LITA’s growing base of virtual teams—is a natural fit for me. In developing our best practices, we tested tools and tactics that I can apply in my day job, like project management software, virtual meeting tools, and scheduling applications. I now know which tools and tactics I can use to engage with OCLC members in the Community Center (and which I can safely avoid or use elsewhere) and we’re sharing what we’ve learned with our colleagues.

Tie leadership development to real projects that improve learning and create change. Click To Tweet

Make it personal

Th Emerging Leaders Program placed me in a group of professionals with differing values and interests and skills, but we’re all librarians and we’ll all probably be seeing more of each other and working together for years to come. Within this context, our differences are a plus rather than a minus. My Emerging Leaders group, Project Team D—”Tenacious D”—is distinct and talented. One of my teammates has expertise in accessibility standards, another in project management with a PMP certification. Team members represent large and small academic libraries, a government library, and a graduate school library. They come from Canada, New York City, the Southwest, and the Midwest. This diversity provides outlooks and approaches that are very different from mine but also very insightful and refreshing.

Make it stick

My team’s work followed up on a project that had been completed by an Emerging Leaders team from 2013. They had done an excellent job and created some great materials, and one of their team members served in an advisory role for our team. We leaned on them for advice and counsel and our work is building on the foundation they laid. Part of becoming a leader is working with those who went before you and giving them a chance to practice what they learned. This kind of continuity produces not only a steadier flow of potential leaders, but ongoing benefits to the community.

Planning for your personal and professional future

One of my favorite posts from Skip Prichard is about “the leadership gap.” In it, he reminds us that “understanding yourself is the beginning of influence.” I agree, and I also think that understanding why you want to get into a leadership role is hugely important. In my case, it was because I want to help move my chosen profession forward.

I think that’s why the ALA’s Emerging Leaders was a good fit for me and hit my sweet spot. By using real-world challenges and personal connections, and building on past success, it goes way beyond training. We’re actually given a chance to start acting like the leaders we want to become.