Part 1: Deciding on a Leadership Curriculum

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Over the last few months, I’ve had some coaches ask if I would be developing a curriculum for teams. After a great deal of thought, I came to decide that I wouldn’t.

My passion and interest are in working with coaches directly in a very organic process of personal growth and development. I enjoy helping them build their system to develop culture. We already have some phenomenal people developing fantastic curriculums that support coaches who wish to intentionally develop leadership and character.

So, I have started to recommend various organizations which specialize in this area to coaches, and I will continue to do so. I have written a two-part blog to help coaches decide on the best curriculum for their context and provide some key ways to effectively implement the program they invest in.

4 Keys to An Effective Leadership or Character Development Curriculum

In her article, “Why Leadership Development Isn’t Developing Leaders”, author and consultant, Deborah Rowland, shares her perspective and outlines much of the research on why some current leadership development is the opposite of what is needed. To paraphrase, she believes that many current leadership programs have a set curriculum and a rational, classroom-based approach. They are taken out of their context (i.e., work environment), and they are inspired, engage in activities, and are taught the latest leadership principals.

Deborah Rowland offers some solutions: “Study after study, including my own, tells us the qualities that leaders in today’s world need are intuitive, dynamic, collaborative, and grounded in here-and-now emotional intelligence.”

She makes four suggestions for leadership development:

1. Make it experiential. She calls this a “living laboratory”. Scrap planned lessons, lectures, and exercises, and replace them with “self-directed experiences” in the very context people work and lead in.

2. Provide a transformation of being, not doing. Her suggestions align with the philosophy of the New England Patriots’ Character Coach, Jack Easterby. In Episode 36 of “Coaching Culture”, Jack shares the importance of developing emotional intelligence—especially in today’s culture. Before people can lead outward, they must be able to regulate their emotional and mental states. Developing self-awareness and self-management is critical, and Deborah stresses the importance of mindfulness practices such as walking, sitting, and having peer and partner discussions to “cultivate the vital skills of purpose, self-awareness, empathy, and acute attentional discipline.”

3. Develop the system—not just the individual. My biggest problem with effectively implementing a curriculum was myself (I will share more about this in Part 2 of this blog). Teaching certain principles doesn’t work if the organization or system does not operate according to those principles.

4. Coaches should act less like “experts” and more like “Sherpas”. Whether they are a designated character coach or any coach in the program, they should act more like guides towards their personal and team goals. As Jack Easterby suggests in Episode 35 of “Coaching Culture”, “accountability is just accounting for someone’s ability”.  He sees his role as “walking the road and making mistakes with people”, and to do that, you must “individualize growth.”

3 Questions to Help Choose the Right Curriculum for You

1. Does the curriculum provide a relevant and useful process for implementing values and principles in your context?

In his article, “Why Leadership Training Fails—and What to Do About It”, consultant, researcher, and professor at Harvard Business School, Michael Beer, discusses his findings on how leadership development can often be very inspiring, but years later, managers reflect on the experience and believe that little has changed as a result of the training. Sound familiar to you? People in these programs share that they struggle to put the principles they are taught within the curriculum into practice.

2. Does the curriculum go beyond inspiration and help align your team’s process and system to its purpose?

Beer recommends attending “to organizational design and managerial processes first” and then supporting them with “individual development tools, such as coaching and classroom or online education”. So, before we can implement a curriculum, we need to address our system. What is the system? The roles, responsibilities, and nature of the relationships of all members in an organization. His research shows that “the individuals had less power to change the system surrounding them than that system had to shape them”. As stated on Brian Kight’s Focus 3 website, “You don’t need a motivational speech. You need a better system.” In Episode 23 of “Coaching Culture”, founder of The Good Athlete Project, Jim Davis, and I discuss the issue of inspiration without purpose and process.

3. Does the curriculum benefit and support not only the athletes but the growth of all members within the system?

In a sporting context, these members include the head coach, assistant coaches, players, administrators, and parents. Everyone should have an opportunity to learn and grow from this curriculum to reshape the system.

Below are some fantastic organizations that are doing incredible work as more than just a “curriculum”. Instead, I would refer to them as a “program” because they help coaches with some of the steps I will outline in Part 2.

I know that many, if not all, of these organizations will agree with this research, as it will match their experience.

  • 2 Words

  • Lead Em Up

  • Focus 3

  • Growing Leaders: Habitudes

  • Changing the Game Project

—J.P. Nerbun

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