Is immersive learning a game changer for leadership development?

December 6, 2017 Geoffroy De Lestrange


Leaders have always been key to business success, but are we now seeing such rapid change that leadership, and leadership development, has to change at its core?


Good leaders are able to support teams going through change, retain talent and move the business forward. Employees lose motivation and leave if they have bad leaders. New generations coming into the workplace are risk takers, looking for innovation and opportunities to be creative, so autonomy is one of the key drivers for teams. But how do you develop your leaders to foster this new type of employee when culture and environment is becoming increasingly important in keeping the team together and moving in the right direction?


At Cornerstone’s annual EMEA Convergence 2017, Jeff Miller, Senior Director of Talent Management, shared some of Cornerstone’s own experiences from running its leadership program where “immersive” leadership training plays an important part in creating real change.


Leadership can be defined as “the skilful use of influence”. The challenge is how to teach leaders when to leverage this influence. The Cornerstone programme is centered around climate and roleplay and simulations are included throughout.


Combine real-life roleplay with your learning management system


When first promoted to manager, the first modules, Manager 101 and 102 are focused on situational training, combining e-learning within learning management systems and roleplay. During the course, leaders are subjected to ongoing assessments, individual and with their teams, and the data is used to create a leadership behavioural index. The managers find out “where they are” on this index, which is then used as an ongoing evaluation tool. Twice yearly one-on-one coaching and team debriefings add more layers of insights on what works, and what doesn’t, when it comes to that individual’s leadership style.


One of the key elements of Cornerstone’s leadership programme is the offsite scenario based leadership training. Leaders are asked to set aside two and a half days to attend, so a big commitment! Mixing individual sessions with simulations gives the manager an opportunity to really get to know himself/herself and understand how this impacts their teams. Participants are sworn to secrecy when it comes to the content of the day, so not to spoil the experience for new cohorts.


For many, it is this truly immersive part of the programme which is a real eye-opener. Being understandably apprehensive going in, they come out of the programme with a new understanding of themselves and their leadership style. Many want to participate and help drive the programme forward, because they can see how it is a game changer in a way traditional skills training can never be. The result is a leadership programme “owned” by the leaders themselves rather than a session run by HR or the L&D team.


Why is Immersive learning so successful?


  • It demands attention (you can’t think about anything else while doing it)
  • It’s lasting - you don’t just learn, you change
  • It uses the most natural way of learning - playing!


It’s not easy to lead in fast moving organisations and employees will increasingly expect new and different things from their managers and employers. Putting yourself out there as a leader can be scary and a first response might be to shy away from immersive leadership development. But in order to be a successful organisation, able to attract talent it’s no longer enough to play it safe when it comes to leadership development. And for us who have taken the step out of our comfort zone, there is no looking back.


About the Author

Geoffroy De Lestrange

Product Marketing & Communication Director EMEA at Cornerstone OnDemand

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