How can we train people to become better leaders? New research (DeRue et al., 2012) has identified the benefits of a strategy called after-event reviews, or AERs. What are AERs, and when will they work best?
The authors explain that leadership is difficult because it involves high pressure and high uncertainty. Even in hindsight, complex situations make it difficult to know if leaders performed well or made good decisions. In order to improve leadership skills, leaders must reflect on what happened, and analyze decisions and outcomes. An AER is a technique that provides structure for this kind of analysis.
THREE STEPS TO AN AFTER-EVENT REVIEW
In the first step, leaders must explain what they did and how this contributed to the outcome. This is called self-explanation. In the second step, called data verification, leaders consider other possible explanations for how their decisions led to the outcome. Finally, leaders consider how changes in their behavior can lead to future improvement.
The authors conducted an experiment involving emerging leaders in a business school and found that using the AER technique led to improved leadership development. This is because AERs provide needed structure to the reflection process, and force leaders to truly deconstruct and consider their actions. Generic reflection processes are not as effective because they allow people to reflect in an automatic and superficial way.
PRACTICAL USE OF AFTER-EVENT REVIEWS
The authors found that several different personality types gain more from AERs. People who are conscientious benefit more from AERs, as do people who are emotionally-stable, and people who are open to new experiences. These kinds of people will be more likely to dutifully, objectively, or readily consider alternative explanations that may prove useful to their development. The authors also found that people who have already experienced some kind of leadership development gain more from AERs than people without this past experience.
What are the practical implications of this? First, AERs are a great way to provide needed structure to the leadership development process. They are cheap, easy, and they work. Second, the authors explain that leadership coaching is a great way to improve and develop leaders. This is especially true when coaches are trained to utilize strategies that are supported by research.