Why Leadership Training Fails

Let’s face it: The leadership training industry has a horrible and downright stinky record.


Chasing the next shiny thing?  Training with pontifications and Venn diagrams that first-line supervisors and middle managers can’t apply in the real world?  


This article provides five warning signs of leadership training that are likely to fail.


  1. It’s just another flavor of the month idea.

You find out it doesn’t work in the real world because it was never (really) tested in the real world until you tested it out yourself and found out the bad news. You’re the first person to be pushed off the cliff.


Solution: Learn from somebody who’s already done your job successfully.  Think about it.  Don’t learn from a leader, instructor or leadership school if they don’t have direct experience with your type of job requirements.  If you’re a first-line supervisor, middle manager or senior manager, learn from somebody who’s proven that they’ve done your job successfully.


  1. They don’t tell you exactly what to do.

They say things like “increase your communication” or “motivate your team” and create “a sense of vision.”  It’s a weekend training course; you show up to work Monday morning, and you can’t apply it—because they haven’t told you exactly how to implement these ideas.  If it weren’t so tragic, it would be funny.


Solution: When you receive training of any type, it should provide a specific, step-by-step implementation plan.  Certainly, it should give you theory along the way.  However, if all they’re doing is giving you these pontifications, avoid this training like the plague.


  1. Even if the ideas are worth trying, you don’t have the time.

You’ve gone to a weekend-long training session with lots of great ideas, but they don’t consider how you will use this information while you’re still doing your job.  You come in the next morning and get slammed for another five or six days straight trying to implement ideas that simply take too much time.  It’s unworkable for supervisors who constantly incur massive direct supervision demands while making sure their team is producing the outputs defined by senior management.


Solution: Unless you know exactly how you will implement any leadership training, which includes knowing how much time you have available to do so, think twice before trying it out.  If the training system can’t answer that question, don’t pursue this training approach.


  1. Even if the ideas appear to be worth trying, it’s too complicated.

There’s just no way you have time to implement somebody’s doctoral thesis.  These are often the programs that are quick to blame the trainee.  All these ideas looked great during the afternoon training; however, as they are based on extremely complicated formulas, they are often unworkable in the typical workplace.


Solution: Complex leadership approaches generally have no place in the world of the first-line supervisor or middle manager. Run in the other direction as fast as you can.


  1. Even if the ideas are worth trying, you don’t have a supportive culture that accepts the change.

If the group above you didn’t attend the same training (even if they are the ones that sent you), your “new initiative boat” is heading for the rocks.  I wish I didn’t have to explain how idiotic this situation is, but I should because No. 5 is the most common and significant cause I’ve seen for wasting new leadership methodologies.  Hoping to influence positive change, you try to re-explain the approach, only to get the same answers from an entrenched culture.  Trying to make progress using this method is a miserable fool’s errand.  What do they say about repeatedly trying the same thing and expecting different results?  Yeah, it’s insanity.


Solution: Not all leadership training proposals require a culture change, but most of them do.  You need buy-in from your supervisor or the senior management group.  If this new approach is not compatible with the current culture senior management promotes, don’t waste your valuable life force.  Chances are good that you’re going to be running up a hill of sand with all four tires spinning without getting any traction and feeling just a lot of heartache instead.



What to Look for Instead


  1. What you need is training from someone who’s done your job before and found effective solutions to your problems.


  1. What you need is training that teaches you exactly step-by-step what to do next.


  1. What you need is training that’s easy to implement, effective and transferable to real-world conditions.


  1. What you need is training that is promoted by the current work culture, including senior management.


  1. What you need is training that uses universal principles so you can go around and apply this to every human who works for you.


Any leadership training that cannot commit to these five requirements is the type of training approach you will likely want to run away from as quickly as possible.


Okay?  You’ve been warned.



I Power Seeds

Here are our takeaways and thoughts - pause and reflect, then nourish and grow!

These are very identifiable reasons why professional training fails.  I can relate to each one of these.  I have done professional leadership training, technical training, as well as development for my staff.  Providing training can be very challenging and one of the most important aspects that has worked for me is providing the “why” or “what’s in it for me?”  Once they understand it, the light bulb goes off and you audibly hear the “ah-ha’s”. 



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