What’s the best way to boost your personal leadership?

There are more and more training opportunities in the field of personal leadership. Especially online. In the meantime, we’re looking forward to physically returning to our classroom desks. But is this still necessary? What learning method is most effective for personal leadership?

When you work on your personal leadership, you take control of – and responsibility for – your own actions, and you learn how to deal with the setbacks that you encounter on your journey. Now, in a time when some companies are facing major setbacks, it is proving difficult to find a course that can help you make it through the challenge.

Yet in 2020, the opportunities for training and in-depth education on personal leadership is greater than ever, both online and offline. So which learning method is most effective? And how can you find out what best suits you and your learning goal?

Pillars of personal leadership

Personal leadership is based on four pillars, says learning and development manager Hans Horstink, of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). “The first pillar is self-knowledge. Who are you? And what are your talents? The better you know yourself, the better you can shape your personal leadership.”

A second important element is purpose, Horstink says. “Where do you want to go in your (working) life? The clearer that picture is for you, the better you will be able to grow and respond to adversity. What’s more, by thinking carefully about your purpose, it becomes easier to make the connection between your personal ambition and the higher goals of the organisation.”

Horstink, who has many years of experience in learning and organisational development, and works as a professional coach, says the third pillar is confidence in yourself. “You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have enough confidence, you will never get the most out of it.”

Finally, personal leadership is about skill, he says. “It starts with simply being good at your job. But other, more generic, skills also play a role, such as critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”

Experience and training

Experience plays a big role in each of these pillars, Horstink says. “The more experience you have in developing your personal leadership, the better you know yourself and the more confidence you have. That’s why it is also important to keep working actively on your personal leadership. By continuing to reflect and practice, you can incrementally improve your effectiveness.”

From webinars and whitepapers to multi-day individual and group training sessions, there’s plenty of choice for those who want to work on their personal leadership. And partly because of the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more training programmes are now being offered online. But which method best suits you and your learning goal? Here are a few things to consider:

# Online versus offline

In terms of effectiveness, the difference between online and offline training doesn’t seem to make much difference, Horstink notes. “The digital possibilities are still growing. For example, next to plenary sessions, online training tools increasingly offer the opportunity to work in groups or one-to-one.”

“Personally, I like face-to-face contact, but I think whether you opt for offline or online training mainly comes down to personal preference. It’s perhaps easier to have a discussion with each other and the instructor in the classroom, but nowadays this is possible online too. We even do role-plays with actors online; it still gives a realistic experience.”

# Short versus long

Many multi-day training courses cover all aspects of personal leadership, while some shorter programmes focus on specific leadership skills, such as non-verbal communication, storytelling and strategic problem-solving. The main factor to consider is therefore your learning goal.

The leadership compass method used within RSM is a good peg on which to hang your personal leadership development on, according to Horstink. “From the four central questions in this compass – what, how, who and why – four clear assignments come forth for anyone who wants to work on their personal leadership: create a social work environment for yourself in which you perform at your best, clarify your own values, build on your personal resilience, and develop your own purpose and vision. By thinking in a structured way about your personal leadership, you automatically gain more insight into what’s missing.”

The digital possibilities are still growing. For example, next to plenary sessions, online training tools increasingly offer the opportunity to work in groups or one-to-one.”

Hans Horstink

# Talk versus experience

Many offline training courses use experience-oriented methods such as role-playing and gaming; Horstink explains: “These methods are often very effective when it comes to sharpening your skills and your confidence. Within RSM, we also regularly use boxing clinics, for example. The way you respond to an ‘opponent’ – attacking, defending, shrinking – says a lot about how you react to verbal attacks. A clinic like this offers all kinds of starting points for conversations about your personal skills. In our Team Leadership programme, we also use a stress simulation, which gives you a lot of insight into your own leadership qualities under pressure.”

# Group versus individual

The choice to follow a group or individual programme is an important consideration, Horstink says. “The advantage of group training is that you can spar with other participants. Hearing about what others struggle with, and how they see your problems, can often enrich your own insight. We all know how a fresh outside perspective can provide new insights.”

“The advantage of an individual programme is that it offers more space to zoom in on specific skills that you want to develop. It also offers the opportunity to study at your own pace. Fortunately, both options are available online.”


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This article by Joost Peters appeared in MT: next generation leadership in June 2020 (in Dutch).