Building Leadership Capability— Virtually

By Jade White, Michael Phillips | May 7, 2020

Key Takeaways:

  • Even during uncertain times, leaders need to sharpen and build their capabilities.
  • Virtual leadership development can be targeted toward each level of leadership within any organization.  

Complex and uncertain times spotlight desirable leadership skills and the competent leaders who possess them. People look to leaders to provide clarity, facts and reassurance in the near term and a compelling vision for the longer term. We are certainly living in complex and uncertain times right now. Our colleague Darryl Wee recently laid out 4 key lessons for leaders for managing through the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Still, behind the scenes, even competent leaders at every level regularly question their own abilities, decisions and thought processes. They may even reach out to trusted colleagues and peers to bounce around ideas, or in more vulnerable and self-reflective moments, share their doubts and fears.

To close the gap between the public face of the leader and their known or unknown capabilities, organizations invest in leadership development. This investment is estimated at $366B USD annually according to a recent study by, with 45% of that being in the US alone. The vast majority of those development programs (74+%) have been high-touch, in-person programs. While there can be high value in an in-person learning experience, especially as it relates to complex concepts or to take a deeper dive into problem-solving and debate amongst leaders, there is a growing demand for blended and even purely virtual options. COVID-19 has accelerated both the need for more virtual options, and the viability of remote-only learning. The RBL Group has been offering a variety of virtual options in our portfolio for years, as a complement to our in-person programs. Like our in-person programs, our virtual development options center around outside in thinking and results based solutions. As technology and demand have grown, so has our capability.

Here are a few Virtual Learning considerations for maintaining your investment in leaders and leadership, especially during times like these where their capabilities will be tested and more visible than ever before.

Front-Line Leaders: For front-line leaders, building basic leadership skills is a core focus. Microlearning modules offer a highly effective approach to deliver just-in-time learning on a specific area of need. As we move through this global pandemic, providing quick tips on Building Trust, Outside In Logic, Coaching Effectiveness, Coping with Stress, etc. can all be delivered in under 5 minute segments via mobile or other virtual platforms. For additional depth, front-line leaders can access associated articles, videos, and SlideShares embedded as links in these micro-learning modules. Facilitated group sessions can also be held by more senior leaders or external facilitators to discuss key concepts and share best practices.

Mid-Level Leaders: For mid-level leaders, a key virtual development strategy could be built around the Virtual Instructor-Led Development (VILD) learning concept leveraged by RBL. In a VILD program, leaders are able to efficiently learn both independently and in small cohorts of their peers while being supported by an external facilitator. Programs are built around a critical area of development need (Leading Change, Navigating Paradox, Managing Talent, etc.), while limiting the physical time away from the job. Participants cover key concepts at their own pace via a mix of readings, videos, and assessments and then get together for short virtual sessions to discuss the application of the concepts in the current context. VILD’s targeted approach still allows your organization and facilitator to flex the content and make it immediate and personal.

Assessments, even a self-assessment, against a Leadership Competency Model can be a great way to calibrate against a standard that may emphasize different areas now than they did in early 2020. Many leadership assessments are entirely virtual, and provide a baseline snapshot of leadership strengths and opportunities that can help in building focused personal development plans. RBL’s Leadership Code can serve as a baseline of leadership competencies as it is a meta-analysis by leadership experts about what effective leaders know and do.

Senior and Executive Leaders: For the most senior leaders in organizations, making time for personal development in the swirl of unprecedented global change and uncertainty is of paramount importance. Leaders at this level will face significant mental and emotional fatigue, hence their need for development has never been greater.

Executive Coaching can be delivered entirely virtually. Leaders can also complete short or more in-depth assessments to better target the coaching conversations. RBL offers the MENTOR® psychometric assessment battery, supported by Coaching, which is entirely virtual. Coaching can also be framed around a current challenge (Reinventing the Organization, Developing Strategic Agility, Navigating Ambiguity, etc.) to more directly address an area of immediate concern. In this type of coaching, seeking a Coach who has experience in the target area should be a strong consideration.

All Leaders: Monitoring and taking care of oneself is easy to say but it is often the first thing set aside during high stress times. In the RBL Leadership Code, the Personal Proficiency domain sits at the center of the model. While researched and developed prior to the global pandemic, core elements of Personal Proficiency ring more true today than ever. Consider the following:

  • Practice Clear Thinking
  • Know Yourself
  • Tolerate Stress
  • Demonstrate Learning Agility
  • Tend to Character and Integrity
  • Have Personal Energy and Passion
  • Take Care of Yourself

These are unprecedented times, yet through it all we are seeing the power of the human spirit prevail. Great examples of leadership are emerging across all levels in organizations, and these lessons should be captured and scaled. RBL is here to help you with leaders at every level in your organization and our virtual tools make that possible--right now and into the future.

Contact us to start a conversation about virtual leadership tools designed specifically to your organization’s needs.

Jade is a former Principal with The RBL Group, and has over 25 years in the strategic HR, talent management and leadership development fields.

Michael is a Principal with The RBL Group. His work is focused on leadership development and organizational change management and creating high performance individuals and organizations.

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