Let’s face it: most leaders learn their craft largely through apprenticeship.  Talent Management and Leadership Development programs offer new skills and perspectives at key points in a leader’s career, but the most significant input to how leaders learn to lead is what they see in the leaders they have worked with-- for good or for bad. 

The 2020 pivot to virtual stresses the leadership development apprenticeship model in unexpected ways.  Young leaders have fewer opportunities to soak in how others in the organization behave and lead.  More work is done independently with less opportunity to learn from more experienced peers.  Many organizations are trying to limit participation in Zoom conversations to keep them feasible, but the quiet observers lose the opportunity to learn. 

Those virtual shifts in how we work make business simulations an even more vital and valuable leadership development methodology. 

Business simulations enable young leaders to learn by doing, to learn with their peers, to take risks, to get feedback and to hear from senior leaders.  Simulation-based learning experiences don’t lose any fidelity by moving to a virtual environment: in fact, those benefits often expand in the virtual setting. 

Why are business simulations an essential leadership development tool in the virtual environment? 

  • Perspective, perspective, perspective   
    Simulations put participants into business challenges.  The context and scenario offer learners perspective that they might lose back on the job.  Sim participants gain perspective about how their work connects to customers and to financial performance.  They gain perspective about the tradeoffs the organization faces to allocate resources and to engage and motivate employees. 
  • Real time feedback 

For many leaders, virtual work is even lonelier than the traditional loneliness of leadership.  The feedback loops of encouragement and the insights from a shared office space are all gone. A simulation offers a platform for immediate feedback, which is often as much about building confidence as it is a platform for offering constructive criticism. 

  • Expanding your network with peers and leaders 
    A simulation creates a new team.   In a virtual simulation experience, that team can easily cross geographic, functional, or even hierarchical boundaries.  It’s a unique opportunity to build relationships and work with people you might not otherwise work with during your day to day role.  Simulation teams compare notes; share experiences and build a foundation for the future that continues long after the learning program.  The shared experience of a simulation enhances networks across the organization. 
  • Learning from peers and pros 

Simulations are an opportunity to try a set of choices and see what happens.  Effective simulations offer learners a benchmark of comparison—to other teams; to real life scenarios; to the choices a company leader would make in the same situation.   The reflection and comparison enable leaders to test their skills and thinking. 

Simulations are an approach to development that offers a welcome break from the relentless screen time of PowerPoints and videos.  They are interactive and competitive.  As a result, they are fun and engaging, and in a virtual environment, particularly high impact. 

Business simulations, now more than ever, will help your leaders build the skills they need to tackle the unexpected challenges and opportunities they face. 

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