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Federal Coach: No-cost leadership training ideas

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

Leadership development is an important investment in employees and a means to improve the performance of federal agencies.

Considering the current budgetary constraints, there are a number of no-cost or low-cost training and development options that you can use to help educate and develop your managers and team members to fill in any gaps.

As noted in books like The Innovator’s DNA, The Art of Innovation and The Accidental Creative, some of the most successful leaders find inspiration by networking with and learning from leaders in other organizations and other fields. Apple’s famously innovative products have been informed by the experience of the company’s CEO, Steve Jobs, with everything from a visit to a calligraphy class in college to a stay at in India.

One development option to consider for your team is scheduling site visits with leaders in other high-performing private sector companies, nonprofit organizations or government agencies. Here at the Center for Government Leadership our fellows benchmark a wide-range of successful organizations for a behind-the-scenes look at strategies for delivering results.

I consulted with our benchmarking expert Abigail Bell, who has coordinated more than 200 site visits with organizations ranging from Home Depot and Starbucks to the San Diego Zoo and Make-A-Wish Foundation.

On a recent visit to CSX Corporation, our fellows learned how the freight railroad was forced to redesign its business model due to environmental restrictions and competition from other modes of transportation. In the process, they learned a number of lessons regarding workplace change, including the need to simplify the mission and core values—that way all employees understand the new direction and the need to both acknowledge when things go wrong and make readjustments when needed.

Here are some steps to introduce your team to thought-provoking experiences right in your own city.

Reach out to potential role models. Find local leaders willing to share their experiences with your team. Look in your local news sources for leadership profiles and inspiring stories about local nonprofit and business leaders. When you find enticing and willing prospects, reach out to them and make sure the lessons they seek to impart are relevant leadership stories and best practices, rather than an overview of their organization.

Do your homework. Prepare your team before any site visit. Use a team meeting or a lunchtime session to engage in conversation about the organization you will be visiting and the questions you might want to ask. Once there, it can be just as important to observe the surroundings. A group of our fellows recently visited the headquarters for Groupon, and according to them it was the fun, non-hierarchical workplace environment that was most impressive. 

Identify what’s applicable. After the visit,discuss the experience with your team to find the lessons that can be applied to your group, your programs and your agency. Be sure to look for unusual opportunities and intangible lessons you may wish to bring back to the office. I still remember a visit I made to the Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco – a residential center that helps substance abusers, ex-convicts and others. Although the visit was years ago, I still retain the optimism in the face of adversity thanks to my conversations with the residents who turned their lives around.

Commit to action. Finally, and most importantly, find concrete opportunities to implement the best ideas uncovered during your site visit and debrief.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Jul 19, 2011 at 12:12 PM


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