Most of the multi-billion dollar industry providing “leadership training” fails to deliver. We absolutely need more and better leaders in all of our organizations. We have faith in training programs, and send tens or hundreds or thousands of people every year to various programs, faithfully hoping in a great result. We’re usually disappointed in the results. Why is this?
We can train people for specific, learnable skills, but leadership must be developed. Leadership is a combination of learned skills and art, dealing with the messy realm of people and projects and organizations. Skills training is necessary, but not sufficient.
There are three reasons why leadership training events fall short of developing leaders:
- Events, not a process. How much can be covered in a short time? How much is retained, and acted upon? Leadership development is not a microwave popcorn exercise, but crock pot cooking. A lot of leadership training events are like mountaintop experiences, and then… we head back to the valley and a lot of that energy and enthusiasm evaporates.
- Limited opportunity for realistic practice. Leadership development is like the apprentice model. You need to practice what you have been instructed to do, and make it work in your hands, with your styles, and with your organization. Even the best training events have limited role play (which is better than none), and not with the real people in your organization.
- Limited opportunity for feedback and adaptation. Leadership training classes might give you a little feedback based on exercises during the event, but they aren’t the same as having peers and mentors who give you feedback, counsel, advice, and watching you in all kinds of situations. You need time to reflect on what you did and how it worked, and consciously adapt through changing circumstances without sacrificing your principles. Welcome to the long adventure of leadership development, in which none of us have “arrived.” We are all working on our craft.
Put training-for-skill opportunities into the context of an overall leadership development view:
- Get specific skill development where you need improvement. Get help from those who know and can teach you.
- Pursue opportunities to practice using these skills, engage with others, and get feedback.
- Cultivate a mindset of being an apprentice leader, always working on sharpening your leadership craft.
- Seek out mentors and coaches to provide wisdom and insights.
- Create a self-education program and hold yourself accountable for learning.
What’s been your experience? Let us know in the comments!