Non-Formal and Informal Education of Leadership in Business


As leadership evolves, there is a growing importance in non-formal leadership development. When it comes to developing leaders, real-life experience plays a large role. As Marshall Goldsmith has commented, “many of our leadership programs are based on the faulty assumption that if we show people what to do, they can automatically do it” (Petrie, 2011). Leadership should be taught within the workplace. One assumption that Knowles stated about adult education was that adults like to learn what they can immediately apply (Palacios, 2013). When teaching leadership within the workplace, leadership can not only be practiced immediately but is also expected to be applied immediately. A major component of leadership within the workplace involves a specific fit with the company’s organizational culture, and each company will require different competencies and skills in their leaders. Also, as we move into the future, competencies that make a strong leader will be constantly changing and adapting to the current environment (Hernez-Broome & Hughes, 2004). There are many elements of leadership that cannot be taught through the classroom, especially with the new trend of collaborative leadership, adults must gain experience and grow within the workplace. Formal education is no longer the most effective approach to leadership development, and in fact, the classroom is becoming the least critical element for leadership training (Petrie, 2011).

There are many forms of non-formal leadership include mentorships, coaching, development workshops and seminars, short courses, action learning, and 360-feedback (Petrie, 2011). Of course, some methods of leadership development are favoured over others, and it is believed that teaching and learning leadership should be an ongoing process, not just a course or seminar (Hernez-Broome & Hughes, 2004). The application of leadership competencies in one’s specific business organization is a key element to the success of developing leadership: “State of the art leadership development now occurs in the context of ongoing work initiatives that are tied to strategic business imperatives” (Petrie, 2011). Vertical learning is another important aspect, and involves CEO’s of businesses to get involved in coaching and mentoring their employees in all levels of the company. The CEO of P&G, the top ranked company of 2013 for leadership, says that he believes in teaching leadership from within and dedicates a large portion of his time to teaching and coaching employees (Donlon, 2013). In Asia, leading companies in building leadership found that real life experiences in practicing leadership are what lead to the fast development of leaders, and found classroom style learning to be less effective (Ramakrishnan, 2013).

The challenge of non-formal leadership education is deciding the right way to develop and teach leadership. The over reliance on formal education, such as MBA programs, is partly due to the fact that it is unknown what experiences best prepare individuals to be leaders (Ramakrishnan, 2013). Also, it may be easier and takes less internal resources for companies and to send their employees to a course versus teaching employees themselves. However, it is important that companies overcome these hurdles so that they can develop effective leaders. They must realize that the focus of leadership should be developing the competencies that will work within the organization. The aim of leadership should be to create authentic leaders that will accomplish the company’s goals. It is said that: “leaders should not be accountable for demonstrating a particular set of behaviours but rather should be held accountable for desired outcomes” (Petrie, 2011). In turn, companies need to foster organizational environments that nurture and reinforce the desired behaviors of leaders (Petrie, 2011).

The main form of informal education within the workplace is observation and working with another leader to follow his or her vision (Mathews, 2012). It is important for CEOs to set good examples for their organizations and to surround their employees with influences that will allow them to succeed and take on roles of leadership. CEOs are leaders, and they must believe that their employees can become leaders and provide them with opportunities to learn from other leaders within the company (Crisp, 2013).


Crisp, D. (2013, July 2). [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Donlon, J. P. (2013, January 12). 40 best companies for leaders 2013. Chief Executive. Retrieved from

Hernez-Broome, G., & Hughes, R. L. (2004). Leadership development: Past, present, and future. Human Resource Planning, 24-31. Retrieved from development.pdf

Matthews, P. (2012). Leadership and learning. Training Journal, , 60-63. Retrieved from

Palacios, C. (2013). Andragogy. Retrieved from

Petrie, N. (2011). Future trends in leadership development.Center for Creative Leadership, Retrieved from

Ramakrishnan, M. (2013, July 05). How top asian firms develop good leaders. The Business Times. Retrieved from


3 thoughts on “Non-Formal and Informal Education of Leadership in Business

  1. To be a strong leader, one must apply what they have learned immediately and this is realistic when leaders teach their colleagues in the workplace. For example, there are many ways to showcase leadership within non-formal education such as training a new employee at work, leading by example in a sports team or taking the initiative to create an effective tool for the company. As you have mentioned, these are the elements of obtaining leadership skills in a non-formal setting. I disagree with you in that “formal education is no longer the most effective approach to leadership development” because I believe it depends on the individual’s learning abilities of finding what approach works best for them and how they can hone their leadership skills. Speaking of leadership in non-formal education, what was one of your valuable experiences or lessons you have learned in developing your leadership skills (leading a team or being in a group)?

    • My most valuable experience I have had in terms of developing my leadership in a non-formal setting was working along side a mentor who is a strong leader. I was in the position where I had to develop my role as a leader almost immediately, and I feel that working alongside someone who could guide me in the right direction was quite effective. I also believe that learning to lead while leading was an important aspect of my leadership development.

  2. I have noticed a common theme throughout the posts and thought I would comment on it here. It seems to me that the most prevalent philsophical orientation to leadership developement is the humanist one. As Lange (2006) states,”Experiential learning is part of the humanist philosphy, in which a learner’s existing knowledge, values, and emotions are the starting point for the curriculum. Real learning takes place when learners discover knowledge for themselves…”(p. 100). While there are formal, non-formal, and informal resources out there to point adult learners in the “right” direction, “planned” or not, most theory transfer of leadership development should coincide with active experience and, as I commented on the Nursing post, the building of confidence.

    Going back to the aims of adult education, I truly believe that leadership development, how it’s changing, how people are reacting to it, and how resources are building, support Verner and Booth (1964) and Bryson’s (1936 as cited in Palacios, 2013) claim that adult education is expansional of competencies and skills, promotes participation in a democratic society, aids in integrating old knowledge with new in adapting to the changing world, and enables individuals to grow personally and continuously.

    Lange, E. (2006). Challenging Social Philosophobia. In Fenwick, T., Nesbit, T., & Spencer, B. (Eds.) Contexts of Adult Education: Canadian Perspectives (92-104). Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing, Inc.

    Palacios, C. (2013). Shaping Adult Education [Course notes]. Retrieved from

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