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E-Tools That Help Teach Leadership

E-Tools That Help Teach Leadership

By Marshall Goldsmith | Business Week

June 24, 2009

Using “push” technology to help leaders grow

Research that my partner, Howard Morgan, and I conducted with more than 86,000 respondents has clearly demonstrated that leaders who identify behavior they to change, who involve their co-workers in the change process, and who follow-up with their co-workers to monitor improvement, are much more likely to achieve lasting, developmental change than leaders who just go to courses. “Push” technology can be used to give leaders an ongoing stream of reminders and suggestions tailored to their specific areas for development. This type of electronic assistance can both help ensure follow-up and dramatically increase the corporation’s return on training and feedback.

Coaching for many leaders, not just the privileged few

Traditional training (and especially coaching) is expensive. But once software has been developed, the marginal cost of each additional application is quite low. E-coaching can be made available for thousands of leaders. While the quality of e-coaching may not match that of an in-person coach, e-coaching will become far better than no coach at all.

While I am excited about using new technology to develop leaders, I am not naïve. This process still has a way to go. In some cases, the quality is still spotty. As technology has improved, the major quality issues are evolving from delivery problems (such as poor reception) to content problems (the reception is great, but the content is boring).

A common mistake is simply to try to copy successful in-person training and put it online. That doesn’t work. Have you ever seen a great Broadway play that is simply taped and shown on TV? Even with a wonderful play, the TV version is usually awful. Imagine having to watch the same play on your computer—or, even worse, your iPod? Training is the same. It will take a few years of experimentation before corporations figure out how to make instructors come to life online. But it will happen, just as movies and TV shows evolved into their own art form, rather than just being a bad version of something else.

Mixing Online and Live

In the short-term, many organizations are beginning to experiment with blended learning. This enables participants to have the added value of a live human being—and expand this person’s contribution through the use of new technology.

One problem with new technology is that it can easily be misused. Corporations already are paying for thousands of wasted hours that employees are spending online—hours that do absolutely nothing for the company. E-learning has the potential to degenerate into entertainment instead of education and end up doing as much harm as it does good.

Nevertheless, I am excited about the future of e-leadership development. Although it will require substantial refinement, I think that new technology can help train and develop the millions of leaders from around the world that will be needed to drive tomorrow’s global economy.

Goldsmith’s new book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, was recently listed as America’s best-selling business book in The Wall Street Journal. He can be reached at, and he provides his articles and videos online at

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