Leaders as Bridge Builders

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I was listening to NPR on Saturday and heard about a program for at-risk young men called BAM. BAM stands for Be A Man. The program works with young men who are at a high risk for violent crime and works to build the skills necessary to avoid being a victim or perpetrator of violent crime. Skills such as breath control as a means of reducing stress and anxiety; thinking two steps ahead about future consequences; and how to question themselves and not assume the worst.

The program has an astounding success rate. The young men in the program commit 44% fewer violent crimes and avoid the criminal justice system. From a crime prevention perspective, this is an extremely successful program and leaves researchers giddy with excitement over its success.

But there is a downside. The moment the young men leave the program they are just as likely to be involved in violent crime as people who never participated in BAM. What researchers found was that without the program the young men revert back to what they’ve always known or believed. What BAM participants need are reminders of lessons learned, accountability partners, mentoring and new information and insights to maintain their better selves. What they needed was a bridge from active participation to inactive participation.

This NPR segment echoes the recommendations I give to all of my clients when it comes to professional development. The easy part of leadership development is scheduling a class and sharing content. The harder part is to connect the sterile world of developmental theory with the messy and real-world challenges of everyday work.

That means the real job of a leader is to build a bridge between today’s aspirations with tomorrows performance. Without a bridge, your performance after leaving any professional development session will be identical to those who never attended.

What can you do? Make sure these three questions have been answered regarding all of your professional development efforts.

1. Is class content directly linked to the work we want to improve?

2. Do we have the support, mentoring and resources in place after the session to sustain the effort and deliver improved performance?

3. Do we have rigorous metrics in place to assure we are making progress?

When you answer these questions in the affirmative, you’ll have an astounding success rate with your programs.

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