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Designing effective leadership training

The content of the leadership training can either focus on a sub-set of skills for particular tasks/situations or generic skills and behaviours. Effective training relies on effective design. Designing a training programme for developing leadership should be based on theories of both leadership and learning. Guidance for designing an effective leadership training programme includes (Yukl, 2005):

  • Clear learning objectives: These objectives should describe the behaviours, skills and knowledge that trainees are expected to acquire.
  • Clear, meaningful content: The content should build on a trainee’s prior knowledge and focus on important aspects.
  • Appropriate sequencing of content: Training activities should be organised and sequenced to facilitate learning, moving from simple to more complex ideas.
  • Appropriate mix of training methods: Training methods should be appropriate for the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours to be learned.
  • Opportunity for active practice: The skills to be learned should be practised, for example practising behaviours, recalling information from memory.
  • Relevant, timely feedback: Feedback should be obtained from a variety of available sources and should be constructive.
  • Trainee self-confidence: Trainee self-efficacy and expectations should be enhanced by the instructional processes, and trainees should experience progress and success.

• Appropriate follow-up activities: Learning of complex skills should be enhanced by, for example, holding follow-up sessions at an appropriate interval after the training to review progress and problems.

Salas et al. (2002) suggest that skills training for team leaders should include:

  • • developing knowledge of other team members’ roles to facilitate co-ordination, communication and team performance
  • • critical thinking skills, and
  • • promoting continuous learning within teams.

Box 6.7 Training metacognition in naval combat information centre (CIC) officers

The training content of a metacognitive skills training course developed for naval CIC officers (Cohen et al., 1998) consisted of scenario-based exercises that used interactive simulation and feedback. The content of the training exercises included:

  • Creating, testing and evaluating ‘stories’, i.e. decision-makers enhance their understanding of a situation by creating a story based on their assessment of the situation, which is then tested by comparing expectations against what is known or observed. If too many unreliable assumptions are used to form the story, then alternative assessments and stories can be generated.
  • Hostile-intent stories can be used to teach trainees by practice and example to identify typical story components.
  • Critiquing stories to evaluate their plausibility by identifying hidden assumptions in a story and generating alternative interpretations of the evidence.
  • When to think more. It may not always be appropriate to use critical thinking, but it is necessary to evaluate the time available before making a decision. In a command environment, decisions can be delayed if a) the risk of delay is acceptable; b) the cost of an error if one acts immediately is high; c) the situation is non-routine or problematic in some way.

Feedback was provided by instructors in the form of hints throughout the scenario, as required, and by class discussion at the end of the exercise.

Studies with groups of five or six officers using this metacognitive training have shown that critical thinking skills can be taught and can improve decision-making processes as well as decision outcomes. These skills are important in tactical decision-making, as these skills help experienced decision-makers to handle uncertainty effectively. Critical thinking skills were also shown to be extended to teams by helping to provide team members with a shared mental model of the situation. Moreover, a shared metacognitive model of ongoing uncertainties was formed, which prompts team members to volunteer relevant information.

Although the trainees in this study were naval officers, this training strategy has also been used with Army battlefield command staff (Cohen et al., 1997a), and with Rotorcraft pilots (Cohen et al., 1997b).

Critical thinking skills, also known as metacognition, put simply could be defined as ‘thinking about thinking’. This refers to the skills that involve reflecting upon and regulating one’s own thinking, including memory, comprehension and performance (Flavell, 1979), and involves both explicit, conscious, factual knowledge as well as implicit, unconscious knowledge. Metacognitive skills describe awareness of the cognitive demands and specific strategies associated with different tasks. Cohen et al. (1998) comment that training of metacognition initially comprises a cognitive task analysis (see Chapter 9) to identify thinking strategies, ways of organising information and decisions. a syllabus can then be developed using information- based (e.g. lectures) and practice-based sessions (e.g. scenario-based exercises; see Box 6.7) to train leaders in metacognitive skills.

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