Is leadership training up the pole?

stairway to heaven

Originally uploaded by t.rickards

A recent visit to a leadership training camp prompted the question ‘what’s the point of all this pole climbing?’.

The very reasonable question was posed by a colleague who had not been part of the experience. Where to start?

Faraday was asked ‘what’s the point of electricity?’ Being a bright spark himself, he was able to reply ‘What’s the point of a baby?’

Experiential learning has to be experienced

It is perhaps a dilemma of leadership. No amount of conceptualizing seems to help answer such a question. The fundamental divide may be between those who learn from experience, and those whose reluctance to engage with experience prevents them from ever finding out for themselves.

Case for the prosecution

It is very difficult to demonstrate the direct link between experiential learning and subsequent real-life behaviors. Therefore, the cost-effectiveness of such programs are also difficult to demonstrate.

Individuals will have very different capabilities to cope with the physical and emotional challenges they are confronted with.

Organizations are increasingly aware of the corporate duty of care, and where the ultimate legal responsibilities and sanctions fall.

Case for the defense

It is very difficult to demonstrate the link between almost any form of business education and subsequent real-life behaviors. There are various technical reasons. These can be found (among other sources) in the Chapter in Dilemmas of Leadership as well as in texts on evaluative inquiry for learning in organizations.

The entire Business School curriculum is increasingly under pressure to accept its limitations, and change to cope with the challenges of the 21st century. The rankings of Business Schools are widely regarded as based on dubious mathematical manipulations and rely on indirect measures of assessing educational value (proportion of faculty with higher degrees; average salary gains among its graduates; ratings in scholarly publications …). Nor is there much agreement about the relative merits of various ranking systems.

Students generally rate experiential projects highly. The exit assessments for the cohort of the Business School described here were overwhelmingly in favour of the projects as a valued part of the course.

A better way?

Here’s a challenge. There must be better ways of assessing the impact of experiential learning as part of a business education.


4 Responses to Is leadership training up the pole?

  1. Procrastination King says:

    The pole climbing echoes historically with the time Britannia ruled the waves. Back in the day, the lookout would be up in the crows nest, on the main mast of the ship. He could see what was coming onto the horizon earlier. The first lesson is VISION.

    Second COURAGE. One needs to build courage. It is like a muscle and time getting to know the ropes is essential for a good captain to know he way round the ship before he can be trusted to run a tight ship.

    For a brief moment did they think that they were consumers?

    Student leaders are in a series of writers workshops. They imagine what it is like up the pole. They imagine the bystanders, the course leaders, the magnate who bought the land and built the house, the fellow students, their histories, their aspirations… etc

    In between writing sessions they could wander like Wordsworth.

    They then read their piece to the group. The group then constructively talk about it while the author remains silent taking notes. The author then reworks his or her piece and the process is repeated.

  2. Tudor says:

    Seems you have skills in course design.

    Thanks for these sparky ideas.

    Best wishes


  3. Gary says:

    Having taken part in a similar exercise (high ropes course rather than poles) my experience and learning was:
    . Most people in the group looked up at the course and were fearful/tense before starting (much comic banter to deflect that fear).
    . Some sections were easier/harder than others (and not always the way round you thought it would be).
    . Having a ‘buddy’ to shadow you along the course and (a) shout encouragement, and (b) help you stay safe, checking you were clipped in to the safety rope, was very reassuring and helped me complete the course.
    . It was a personal challenge and also a group challenge – people who went first gave advice to people going later on what to do and what to avoid.
    . The way someone accepts the challenge (or refuse it or give up) will reveal something about that person (including aspects of leadership).
    . The feeling when I completed the course was one of relief and overwhelming elation. I felt highly energised and super confident. It was a brilliant experience.

    I am a keen walker. Looking at a pole/ropes challenge is like seeing a mountain from the roadside and admiring its beauty and dramatic challenge. You won’t get much other than a fleeting view of it. If you experience the mountain by walking up it and watching the landscape change as you ascend, and reach the summit, that feeling is similar to the elation of completing a tough obstacle course high above the ground.

    If you don’t experience, you’ll never ‘know’. You’ll only imagine you know. (It’s why I also had to do a tandem skydive in New Zealand – I wanted to know what it felt like falling through the sky . . . another amazing experience I shall never forget).

  4. Car Dealer says:


    God love google, nice stuff. Have an excellent day….

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