Experiential Leadership Development






Effective leadership development has long moved beyond instructor-led, classroom-based education. Nowadays, leaders at all levels can learn through a blend of offerings including face-to-face interactions, learning platforms, immersive experiences and social connections[1].

Some organizations take the term “experiential leadership development” a step further. With the aim of exposing leaders and high-potential talent to a completely unfamiliar context, or encouraging them to unplug from their busy work-lives altogether, some providers offer development experiences that are designed to be as close to life as can be. We took a closer look at some of the leadership development offerings out there, though there are also others to consider.

Developing leaders – in the water, on the farm, in a spa, a foreign country, or virtual reality!

LeaderSurf offers a diverse learning community in an exotic surrounding: during a six day leadership development retreat hosted in Playa Santana, Nicaragua, the program is designed to help build leadership capability while teaching participants how to surf. Besides surf lessons and sessions, participants also take part in humanitarian community projects while learning about leadership through assessments, coaching and solving business challenges. [2]

Survival Systems USA uses in-water survival exercises to help build and enhance leadership skills and team dynamics. Participants go through practical exercises such as life raft evacuation, underwater egress, surface water survival, jumping from a height, and rescue. The program is designed to help improve stress awareness, build self-confidence in a replicated work environment, enable individuals to assume leadership roles in simulated survival scenarios, and enhance emotional control.[3]

TeachingHorse enables leaders to explore their leadership capacity with horses. Participants learn ways to connect and work with horses to practice change leadership skills. Thereby, they are able to familiarize themselves with the principle of shared leadership demonstrated by a herd of horses, as well as verbal and non-verbal communication styles. The program is designed to help leaders embrace uncertainty and shared leadership in complex systems.[4]

The Immersion Lab offers leaders an external perspective through custom designed, brokered learning exchanges with external thought leaders in leading global organizations, diverse industries, entrepreneurs, disruptors, NGOs, customers, future talent, government and others. Leaders go through a series of orchestrated meetings to discuss specific topics affecting their business and witness “retail safaris” (watching customer purchases), visit hospitals (watching surgeons at work), and hold discussions with recent university graduates (helping to understand Millennials).[5]

The Gronstedt Group takes a tech approach to leadership development and learning. Using a 3-D immersive gaming approach, participants become part of a gaming story, whereby they receive a mission and are thrown straight into action. Immediate feedback on their performance (e.g. customer feedback, social media feeds) enable real-time learning in a virtual environment. Newest technologies used are simulations and games, virtual and augmented reality tools, 360-videos or video storytelling.[6]

TLEX focuses on mental resilience and restoration to enable greater agility. The goal of their offerings is to improve resilience, clarity, and focus so that leaders can show up in the moments that matter most. Participant leaders can learn ways to use empirically validated breathing techniques to help them switch into a parasympathetic state, enabling greater flexibility and agility in taking on challenges and learning.[7]

Ready to jump in yet? Send me your questions and comments to aderler@deloitte.com


[1] The Role of Exposure in Leadership Development: How Leaders Really Learn, Bersin™, Deloitte Consulting LLP/Andrea Derler, Ph.D., 2017

[2] https://www.leadersurf.com/

[3] http://www.survivalsystemsinc.com/

[4] http://www.teachinghorse.com/

[5] http://immersionlab.com/

[6] http://gronstedtgroup.com/

[7] http://tlexinstitute.com/offerings/


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Copyright © 2017 Deloitte Development LLC. All rights reserved.

Andrea Derler

Leadership & Succession Research Leader / Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Andrea leads Bersin’s research execution team and also serves as leadership and succession management research leader for Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP. Focused on the continued evolution of Bersin’s research capabilities, her expertise lies in research on business leadership, leadership development and learning, and related talent topics. Her work about leaders’ ideal employee received widespread media attention in Europe and has been published in the journal Leadership & Organization Development. Andrea has a doctoral degree in economics (leadership and organization) from the FernUniversity Hagen (Germany) and a master’s degree in philosophy from the Karl-Franzens-University in Graz (Austria).

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