Training or Mentorship to Build Leadership Skills?

Leadership development services are a $134 billion annual expenditure in the US.
-*How can purchasers ensure that they receive value for the investment?

Peter Harms

Peter Harms

Peter Harms of University of Nebraska-Lincoln identified prerequisites for effective leadership development in his collaborative research with

Paul Lester

Paul Lester

Paul Lester of the U.S. Army Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Directory, Sean Hanna of the U.S. Military Academy,

Gretchen Vogelgesang of Federal Management Partners, and Bruce Avolio of University of Washington in a six-month study of U.S. Military Academy cadets at West Point:

Sean Hanna

Sean Hanna

Bruce Avolio

Bruce Avolio

  • Candidates’s readiness to receive candid feedback from a variety of sources
  • Mentoring from an engaged, supportive leadership coach in preference to classroom earning about leadership
  • Realistic advancement opportunities in the organization for the candidate.

This research team randomly assigned participants to an individual mentorship program or classroom-based group leadership training to evaluate the relative efficacy of less expensive group delivery delivery approaches
Those who participated in the semiformal mentorships were significantly more likely to report increased confidence in assuming a leadership role than those in the classroom training.

Harms and his team suggested that the mentoring group’s effectiveness is based on coaches’ ability to:

  • Establish a trust-based collaborative relationship
  • Provide support
  • Offer frank, even blunt, experience-based feedback
  • Become sponsors and advocates when the cadets assert leadership.

Additionally, participants who experienced greatest gains in leadership skills and confidence were:

  • Open to receiving candid feedback from mentors
  • Willing to receive challenging and even negative feedback

Though the least expensive approach to leadership development did not produce the greatest

Elton Mayo

Elton Mayo

results, recent research on the placebo effect in medicine may remind those evaluating the Return on Investment (ROI) of leadership development training that the more intense attention demonstrated in the “Hawthorne effect”, described by Elton Mayo, and the placebo effect may explain some of the results, rather than the actual content of the mentoring relationship.

Ted Kaptchuk

Ted Kaptchuk

A tangible example of power of attention was reported by Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard Medical School, who found that among 250 patients with documented symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), those who received the most individualized attention in three no-treatment conditions reported the greatest symptom relief even though no medical intervention.
Even Kaptchuk told participants that the “treatment” was a placebo, volunteers reported symptom alleviation.

These finding suggest that the most important “active ingredient” in leadership development training may be personalized attention.

However candidates’s readiness to receive candid feedback and to implement recommendations should be also evaluated by multiple raters in addition to candidates’ self-ratings to reduce evaluative bias.

 -*How has personalized mentoring helped you develop leadership competencies?

Twitter @kathrynwelds
Blog: – Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary
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©Kathryn Welds


4 thoughts on “Training or Mentorship to Build Leadership Skills?

  1. Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson

    Hi Kathryn,
    Some of my best workplace mentors have been my friends either in the workplace or who have experience there. They give me the “personalized attention” and feedback that helps me grow. The funny thing is, I think of them as friends, and am only recently realizing that they are also “mentors” in the business sense of the word. Of course, this is not to knock the more formal mentoring relationships. I just mean to say it would be good to count the riches of friendship in our search for mentors. Thanks for sharing this! Jennifer

    1. kathrynwelds Post author

      Thank you, Jennifer, for stopping by and sharing your reaction. You raise an important point about flexible boundaries between work and non-work life relationships as work and life become more seamless. It sounds like you have followed the best practice of assembling your personal “Board of Directors” to advise on various areas of life. Sometimes recommendations in one life sphere are surprisingly applicable in other seemingly unrelated areas for an innovative perspective on work and life dilemmas!

      On Mon, Feb 4, 2013 at 10:53 AM, Kathryn Welds |Curated Research and

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