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Take Your Leadership Training Home With You

Corporate training can be a win-win for leaders professionally and personally.
Originally published in TD Magazine, October 2017. See full article here.

Oliver came home from work one day to find his wife, Tricia, in tears at the kitchen table. “Honey, what’s wrong?” he asked.
She revealed that she had been laid off. Oliver sat down to listen, and Tricia’s story unfolded. At 5 p.m., she was called into the boss’s office. Taking her hand, Oliver said, “I’m sure you were anxious.” Then, after receiving the news, she described the long, lonely walk back to her desk, as all eyes were on her. “Hon, you must have been so mortified,” Oliver commented.
They sat and talked for an hour. After a pause, Oliver said, “So, how are you feeling now?” Tricia took a deep breath, then replied: “Honestly, I’m confused. Is this a ‘husband swap’ or something? You are completely different than the man who left the house at 7 this morning.”
Was Oliver possessed by aliens? No. Oliver had spent the day in leadership training. The day’s session had focused on learning, practicing, and getting feedback on the foundational communication skills that ensure conversations are both productive and make the other person feel valued, understood, trusted, and respected. When Oliver returned to training the next day, he admitted that he would have handled the situation with his wife much differently prior to training.
Usually, he’s a “fixer,” and if left to his old ways, Oliver would have spent the evening not processing Tricia’s day, but instead helping her brainstorm the next job. The “new” Oliver is a perfect example of applying corporate leadership skills at home.
Stress at home affects work
Many situations in our day-to-day lives call for tough conversations: Children not doing their homework, teenagers coming home late, and financial issues with your spouse among them. People have trouble coping with these situations, and conversations can get heated, with both sides saying things they later regret. As one leader told us, “While some people might think these discussions are easy, they are not. Other people’s feelings are at stake, and it is important to increase understanding and reduce conflict.” If these conversations aren’t handled well, the results can lead to stress-related health conditions, general unhappiness, and even family breakups.
According to research conducted by Lieke L. ten Brummelhuis, Jarrod Haar, and Maree Roche, leaders’ home situations can affect the morale of an entire organization. Leaders who report stress at home are described as distracted, irritable, and not available for communications by the people who work for or with them.
Practicing leadership skills at home
Leadership trainers at DDI have asked participants returning to a second session in its Interaction Management program how they have applied the leadership skills covered in the previous session. These skills include listening effectively and showing empathy, providing positive recognition, maintaining or improving others’ self-esteem, and seeking the opinions of others. Typically, a quarter of respondents report an immediate on-the-job application, and the rest say they were on the lookout for a workplace opportunity. However, more than half usually respond that they used their new leadership skills in a challenging situation at home.
Intrigued, we decided to follow up on those observations and surveyed 315 people who recently completed leadership training. Surprisingly, 82 percent reported using their newly learned skills outside of work, with 90 percent saying those successful conversations occurred at home. One of the most poignant stories was as follows:
“I have a 15-year-old son who has numerous behavior problems that we have not been able to deal with. We were getting ready to create an intervention for him to save him from his destructive tendencies. The night I came home from your class, my wife and I were discussing the steps in the intervention with heavy hearts. As I opened my briefcase, the [Discussion Planner] form we practiced with lay on top. I pulled it out and completed each section as if I were talking to him. I focused on listening first and asking him how he felt. I recognized that I did not do that well in the past. I went to my son’s room and started the dialogue. In the past two weeks, we have had more conversations than have occurred in our entire relationship. … I have a new son, and there will be no intervention.”
Is it surprising that learners made their first application in their home or with friends rather than in the workplace? Not really. At home, leaders easily can identify an immediate challenge, and feel less stress trying out new skills. Leaders say that the outside-of-work use of the new skills built up their confidence for future difficult situations at work.
Make leadership training a catalyst for change
Here are some ways that trainers can generalize use of the interaction skills taught in leadership training and emphasize their broader value.
  • At the beginning, emphasize two goals for participants: to become better leaders, and to become better people in all interactions at work and outside of work.
  • When using analogies to explain concepts, use a mix of home and work examples, such as “It’s like working with a dejected child who was picked on by the class bully. You have to work on his self-esteem before you start to coach.”
  • Provide models that illustrate effective behaviors in situations both at work and outside of work. For example, comment on how the star of a popular TV show handles a difficult situation.
  • When seeking examples of how participants applied their new skills, encourage stories from home as well as work. It doesn’t matter where leaders practice their new leadership skills; any application is a good application. When learners try out their skills at home, it locks in the learning and builds confidence to apply their skills in other situations.
As we talk about work-life balance and bringing one’s whole self to work, we realize that we can’t compartmentalize our professional self from our personal self. Clearly, corporate leadership training is a win-win for employees and families alike.
William C. Byham is the co-founder and executive chairman of DDI;
Tacy M. Byham is the CEO of DDI;
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