The benefits of (and some of the objections to) Virtual Reality leadership training:

There are many perspectives on what constitutes great leadership and the skills and competences required to be a successful leader, but what most agree on, is that underpinning all of these is the need to be agile learners. This is essential if they are to develop and evolve capabilities such as leading through ambiguity, managing complexity and making decisions that will impact their organisation a year ahead, when they cannot predict what the economic and social environment will look like. Leaders must be able to learn and re-learn as the business landscape evolves around them at a frantic pace. For more on this, check out this article from Deloitte on Leadership for the 21st Century.

With that sobering thought in mind, how might virtual reality change leadership training? Well, there are still many sceptics who believe it won’t, so let’s look at some of those objections first:

Objection #1 – Virtual reality is great for kid’s games, but can it really help with the serious business of developing leadership capability?

Virtual reality is great for gamers, that’s for sure! Gaming has systematically become more immersive and realistic year on year for as long as I can remember. But, let’s get academic for a moment and consider results from a number of studies that conclusively show the benefits and recommend the use of VR for leadership development.

One such article “Virtual Reality as an Emerging Methodology for Leadership Assessment and Training”, published on Frontiers in Psychology in 2018*, describes virtual reality as: “a promising technology that can overcome the problems of achieving valid results from real life scenarios…” and goes onto say “…behaviours, attitudes and beliefs can be transferred from reality to virtuality, and vice versa, in a spontaneous, unconscious, unaware manner”.

If you love reading this type of academic article, you can access the full report here, but essentially the report concludes that VR not only enables us to assess authentic behaviour in the VR environment, but it also results in a transfer of the newly learned behaviours back into the real world. Better learner engagement, more realistic scenarios, faster learning cycles and significantly increased transfer of skills back into the real world – perfect for preparing leaders for an unpredictable future.

Objection #2 – VR is an engaging one off experience, but can it have a sustainable impact on leadership capability?

On its own, as a one off experience, VR is unlikely to have any significant long term impact on leadership performance for the majority of leaders. But, in the hands of forward thinking learning and development professionals who know that “one and done” training experiences don’t work, virtual reality can be used as a powerful module within a learning journey. Think of it as a catalyst to fuel the fire of learning within a learner’s journey, a tool that will have your CEO and other key stakeholders celebrating your innovative and game changing approach to leadership development.

A good example is “Thinking and Decision Making” a leadership learning journey that explores leaders patterns of thinking and challenges them to solve a complex problem in a multi-player virtual reality simulation, supporting them with observation feedback and both an individual and team action plan to enhance ongoing performance as they go back into the workplace, with a distinct competitive advantage over your competitors.

Objection #3 – VR is too expensive, I can use role plays to have the same impact as a VR experience

As L&D professionals, we’ve used role plays for decades to allow practice of new skills in a training environment and I’m sure we can all recall being part of a few awkward role plays throughout our careers. And, whilst role plays have been beneficial, they have always been lacking for a number of reasons. Here’s some of the feedback we’ve had from leaders involved in role plays over the years:

  1.  “Poor acting didn’t help”
  2. “Embarrassment of participants was a problem for us”
  3. “It wasn’t a true representation of real life”
  4. “Awkward participants leads to hesitation and ultimately these scenarios not being taken seriously”

Virtual reality, on the other hand, fully immerses participants and avoids any distractions that don’t relate to the scenario. There are no actors in VR, the scenario is repeatable and consistent compared to the changing variables in a role play (actors, the facilitator, the environment), and participants have a more authentic response and are able to practice the same scenario, with a focus on continuous improvement, in a risk free environment.

VR also allows us to capture an unprecedented amount of data on participant behaviour; for example, by listening to the volume and type of words used in a VR experience, we can determine the quality of communication and interaction. This data can subsequently be used to provide constructive feedback, allowing leaders to improve.

Objection #4 – It’s just too expensive to utilize VR for leadership training

Whilst the cost of building a virtual reality leadership lab is likely beyond the budgets of many organisations, as with all technology, we are now at a tipping point where the value of including VR in your leadership journeys outweighs the investment, particularly when learning technology companies such as Jenson8 are building experiences specifically designed to produce an unrivalled level of authenticity as leaders interact in a series of unfamiliar scenarios. Biz Group have made this even more accessible with the building of the Middle Easts first Virtual Reality Leadership Lab, allowing organisations to leverage the technology at a fraction of the cost of investing in their own facility.

That being said, in order to really address this objection, we need to fully understand the tangible benefits of virtual reality leadership training; here’s a couple of big ones for starters….

A) Save Money – VR allows leaders to practice in a safe environment, so they avoid making mistakes in the real world. What does your organisation stand to lose if its leaders don’t make the right decisions in the next 12 months?

B) Save Time – Immersed in a 10 minute VR scenario, we’re able to capture and then provide feedback on authentic individual behaviours and team dynamics, allowing leaders to correct them in the real world. Which of your competitors will catch up or overtake you if your leaders are unable to lead through rapid cycles of change and the need to evolve and adapt to fast changing customer demands?

The question for me isn’t can we afford to invest in developing our leadership talent, its can you afford not to? Ask yourself this, what’s at stake if your leaders are unable to navigate the increasingly complex business landscape in your industry?

Some of the other benefits of leveraging virtual reality for leadership development include:

  • VR allows participants to safely experience difficult situations and develop greater awareness of their individual and collective behaviour and how this triggers different outcomes in a team environment.
  • VR provides a mixture of sensory input, ideal for learning since it exposes the brain to the same information in different ways, leading to greater understanding than traditional learning tools.
  • VR influences us on an emotional level, because we are more likely to remember experiences that are unique, surprising and out of the ordinary.
  • VR has been proven to positively influence cognitive function.
  • VR provides an opportunity for hands on training in a gamified experience, so we can practice coming up with solutions to team behaviour challenges and are exposed to the “try-fail-learn” cycle necessary for understanding and change to take place.


If you want to find out more about Biz Group virtual reality leadership training, register your interest in our brand new Virtual Reality Leadership Lab opening on September 19th.