Instructional designers and training professionals use some common models and philosophies to design learning experiences for adults. ADDIE is the one that corporate professionals know; Bloom’s Taxonomy is found more often in classic educational institutions.

There are significant problems with both approaches. They completely ignore the artistic considerations that make any training program worth sitting through and the design process fun. The thinking behind both is linear instead of holistic. The structure of both emphasizes categorization and definition, which creates a great deal of stress in those whose Myers-Briggs type falls clearly on the feeling, intuitive and perception poles instead of the thinking, sensing, judging poles.

As one of those types (ENFP), I find working with either ADDIE or Bloom to be a time-consuming, tedious drag. Yes, I think needs analysis is important (the first ADDIE step), but the truth is many people don’t know what they need and neither does anyone else in the organization. Training objectives (Bloom’s big contribution and a part of phase two in ADDIE) are important, and yes, I care about what people will learn by the end of a class, but I also care how people feel at the end of a class and whether or not they had a good time.

In a world where people now have access to very compelling entertainment on the iPhones they peek at during training sessions, you had better make sure that you give them a good time.

I also want to raise consciousness whenever I do a leadership program, a goal that eludes the behavioral emphasis of the classic approaches. I want people to meet the behavioral objectives and I want to give them plenty to think about after the class is over.

The process I use is non-linear and hard to structure in a series of steps. Sometimes it begins with a needs analysis, but one that is far more open-ended than the one you use in ADDIE. ADDIE assumes that people know or can divine the “desired behavioral outcome,” but any study of successful leaders will tell you that there are many possible “behavioral outcomes” that can be effective, depending on the circumstances. In fact, I want there to be many possible behavioral outcomes because the act of leadership is never effective unless it is genuine, and you can’t engage in genuine behavior unless you personalize it.

Once I figure out what the people in an organization really need, I immerse myself in the topic from as many angles as possible. Using the subject of leadership as an example, I might re-read the obvious choices like The Leadership Challenge, Principle-Centered Leadership and Now Discover Your Strengths and the like, but I’d also find different biographies of famous leaders throughout history and assimilate those lessons into my thinking. I’d also check business and political sites for current material on successful and unsuccessful manifestations of leadership. The point of doing this is that if I’m going to be in a room with twelve intelligent adults for several hours, I better know my stuff and that knowledge has to go deeper than the model I’m presenting . . . because no one’s reality ever fits perfectly into any model. This immersion is equally important in the design stage, for it adds a richness and depth that I’d miss through a linear approach.

Once I’m ready to design, my approach is more like music composition than classic instructional design. I identify the key themes and make sure those themes are echoed throughout the program. I pay due attention to the techniques of build-up, modulating highs and lows and resolution of tension: the core elements that make music interesting and memorable. All of this happens while I’m simultaneously working with slides, exercises, multiple forms of media and engaging in a back-and-forth internal dialogue with the objectives I’m trying to achieve. While I never stray far from the objectives, I’m always open to the possibility that the objectives can be improved as I go and find more powerful ways to express the intent of the program.

The end result I’m trying to achieve is shared engagement in the world of leadership. It’s important for me to be passionate about helping leaders and it’s important that the participants feel that passion. My “process” may not be the standard approach to training design, but it has worked for me and for the participants in the programs I have designed . . . many of whom still call me years later to bounce around ideas and discuss leadership challenges.

Kouzes and Posner said, “No one can teach you how to lead. You have to write your own book on leadership.” I feel the same way about training design. Don’t limit yourself to what the experts define as proper design procedure. You have a heart, a mind and imagination that you can put to good use for the people you serve.

Photo Credit: © Orangeline | Stock Free Images &Dreamstime Stock Photos


Early in my career, I learned the importance of walking the talk: doing what you say you’re going to do.

So, in approaching a new assignment to design a leadership development program (like the one I’m working on now), I have to admit it would be very easy simply to copy from the dozens of other leadership development programs that I have developed. If I did that, though, I wouldn’t be walking my talk. My fundamental theory of organizational development states that every culture is unique and therefore every program has to be designed from scratch. While I may go back and look at what I have done before, I detach myself from the analysis and evaluate everything as if it were fresh information.

Because unless I can answer the question, “Will it fit in this culture?” in the affirmative, I have to find another way.

The first step of my design process is what I teach other trainers: immerse yourself in the subject. Lately I’ve been in heavy immersion, reading biographies of famous leaders, reviewing the great books on leadership, writing down stories from the recent past that involve leaders doing great things for their people and their organizations. Immersion accomplishes two things. First, it gives me a wealth of information that I can access when facing a group of savvy leaders who ask lots of questions from unexpected perspectives. Second, it helps me find the right language for the best possible training objectives for this particular program.

Instructional designers may tell you to start with the objectives, but I don’t know how you do that without immersing yourself in the available knowledge and in the culture of the organization you are serving.

Still, I have to admit that there are certain leadership models and practices that I return to because they contain wisdom that applies to many cultures and, most importantly, allow the leader enough freedom to personalize the approach involved. These will not work in every culture in every stage of organizational development, but they contain essential information that can make every leader more effective:

  • Dr. Paul Hersey’s Situational Leadership™ has been around for years and remains a vibrant, practical theory of leadership. The key to Situational Leadership™ is balancing flexibility with consistency by matching one’s leadership approach to the readiness level of the follower. The consistency comes from responding to specific indicators with a specific behavioral response; the flexibility comes from adjusting that response as the follower’s readiness level changes. What I like best about Situational Leadership™ is that it’s all about finding the leadership approach that will be the most helpful to that follower at that particular moment. For more information on the theory and certification, go to The Center for Leadership Studies website.
  • Kouzes and Posner’s The Leadership Challenge is a research-based approach that identifies five leadership practices common to successful leaders: Challenging the Process, Inspiring a Shared Vision, Modeling the Way, Enabling Others to Act and Encouraging the Heart. The authors also identified what followers expect from leaders, what they call The Credibility Factor. People expect leaders to be honest, competent, forward-looking and inspiring. These practices and factors are anything but dogma; the authors encourage each leader to find their own way of manifesting leadership. The latest edition of The Leadership Challenge is available on Amazon.
  • The third source I recommend is Now Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton. While this is not a book about leadership per se, all leaders need to discover their personal strengths and encourage others to discover theirs if they are to get the best out of their people. As Buckingham put in a speech he gave a few years ago, “A great manager turns one person’s talent into performance.” Within that statement are several insights: that each person working for you is unique; that each person working for you has untapped potential; and that each person working for you deserves your time and attention. The book is also available on Amazon.

So, which am I using in my current program? The one that will work best in this particular situation is The Leadership Challenge, but I will be integrating that information with knowledge from many other sources, some of which would fall into the category of “unexpected.” These include Keith Johnstone (who writes about improvisational theatre), Jennifer James (a cultural anthropologist), Robert Morrow (novelist and author of Ringing True) and a few of my own theories that should resonate in this culture.

There are two takeaways from this post. First, for those of you reading this who do not have access to leadership development programs in your organization, I want you to know that the answers to many of your questions and solutions to many of your leadership problems are available to you in the sources I mentioned. Second, no matter what leadership model you choose to anchor the design of your leadership development program, don’t choose it because you love it or you know it—choose it because it’s the best possible fit for the culture you’re serving.

And if you don’t find anything that fits . . . design your own model. If you really take the time to know an organizational culture, you will find certain values, visions and practices that might work better than anything you can get off the shelf.

Photo Credit: © Ermell | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos