Guest Blog: 3 Ideas for Leadership Development Outside the Classroom

By Halelly Azulay, TalentGrow LLC

Your current leader population wants to grow and needs to continue to improve their leadership competencies. You have Baby Boomer leaders set to retire but many of those ‘on the bench’ to succeed them are not quite promotion-ready. Millennials are chomping at the bit for ongoing leadership development opportunities.

You need to create ‘bench strength’ in the form of a pool of ready-to-lead talent.

Does this sound familiar? Don’t despair. Hope awaits…

When we deploy a wide variety of development methods to get our leaders to the next level, everyone benefits. It is not merely a training issue, either. It’s bigger than that. Here are three ideas to help you approach leadership development in a broad, and inclusive way that doesn’t require developing coursework or having people attend classes!

Rotation/stretch assignments

A job rotation means that the leader is temporarily assigned to a different job, usually laterally, in another role in the same organization, for an agreed-upon period of time. A stretch assignment is a task or project that these leaders perform usually within their current role but beyond their job description that challenges and broadens (stretches) their current skills and capabilities.

In leadership workshops or seminars, leaders are usually isolated and focused on learning outside the context of their workday. But when they are strategically working in a job rotation or stretch assignment with a developmental lens, leaders learn new skills in the context of their daily work experience and apply their lessons immediately, continually.

These kinds of assignments, when coupled with specific development goals, are a rich growth opportunity that yields many benefits to the leader as learner. They are a wonderful platform for leadership development that is readily available and completely scalable to the specifics of the leader, team, and organization.

Volunteering in a leadership role

How can your future and current leaders practice new leadership skills on-the-job without any downside for your organization whatsoever? By practicing on someone else’s turf as a volunteer.

Volunteer jobs in leadership positions provide a great opportunity for leaders to ‘get their feet wet’, try new approaches, and practice skills they haven’t yet mastered. And they do this all away from work where their mistakes don’t affect your organization directly or cause any hardship.

There are endless leadership positions in non-profit and community-based organizations that need volunteers to serve their constituents. Leaders can craft a development strategy for leveraging a volunteer job for their own learning and growth, then deploy the plan and bring back the newly developed skills back to your organization.

It’s a win-win-win.


Do your current or high potential future leaders have a mentor? And, are they mentoring someone themselves?

Lots of employers already have, or are considering adding, a mentoring program. Often, we view these opportunities as intended to benefit the newest members of the workforce. Yet, the potential developmental benefits of mentoring and being mentored can be equally valuable to those in leadership positions.

When in the role of protégé (aka mentee), leaders can gain insights from those who are a few steps ahead of them on a similar leadership journey. Even the most experienced and successful executive coaches have an executive coach of their own.

Leaders of all levels should also keep their skills sharp by getting a mentor. These leader mentors create value for their protégés, but don’t they also grow their own skills as a result of mentoring others? Yes! For example, they may develop patience or empathy, or gain a new perspective on organizational challenges and trends, or enhance their coaching skills while playing the role of a mentor. These new skills can then be leveraged back on the job. This is leadership development at its best. There is dual-value delivered to the organization as a result of both parties developing.

Developing leaders is an ongoing challenge many organizations face, and by expanding the idea of “development” to include non-training-related methods, we can all benefit richly. Whether by completing a stretch or rotational assignment, volunteering in a leadership capacity, mentoring or being mentored, current and future leaders can grow their skills, stretch outside their comfort zone, and bring the benefits of  their expanded skillsets to their organization without ever stepping foot in a leadership development workshop.

Look for these and many more non-training employee development ideas in Halelly’s book, Employee Development on a Shoestring published by ATD Press.


About Halelly Azulay, TalentGrow LLC

Halelly Azulay is an author, speaker, facilitator, and leadership development strategist, as well as an expert in communication skills and emotional intelligence. She is the founder of TalentGrow LLC.

a consulting company that develops leaders and teams experiencing explosive growth. TalentGrow specializes in people leadership skills, which include communication skills, teambuilding, coaching and emotional intelligence. TalentGrow works with all organizational levels, including C-level leaders, frontline managers and individuals.

Halelly is the author of two books, Employee Development on a Shoestring  and Strengths Can Help You Lead a More

Fulfilling Life .

She also hosts The TalentGrow Show http://www.talentgrow.com/podcast

a leadership development podcast. She brings 20 years of professional experience in workplace learning and leadership development to her work with corporate, government, nonprofit, and academic organizations.