Over the years, I’ve observed just about every type of leadership development program on the planet. And the sad thing is, most of them don’t even come close to accomplishing what they were designed to do – build better leaders. In today’s column I’ll share the #1 reason leadership development programs fail, and give you 20 things to focus on to ensure yours doesn’t become another casualty.
According to the American Society of Training and Development, U.S. businesses spend more than $170 Billion dollars on leadership-based curriculum, with the majority of those dollars being spent on “Leadership Training.” Here’s the thing – when it comes to leadership, the training industry has been broken for years. You don’t train leaders you develop them – a subtle yet important distinction lost on many. Leadership training is alive and well, but it should have died long, long ago.
This may be heresy to some – but training is indeed the #1 reason leadership development fails. While training is often accepted as productive, it rarely is. The terms training and development have somehow become synonymous when they are clearly not. This is more than an argument based on semantics – it’s painfully real. I’ll likely take some heat over my allegations against the training industry’s negative impact on the development of leaders, and while this column works off some broad generalizations, in my experience having worked with literally thousands of leaders, they are largely true.
An Overview of The Problem My problem with training is it presumes the need for indoctrination on systems, processes and techniques. Moreover, training assumes that said systems, processes and techniques are the right way to do things. When a trainer refers to something as “best practices” you can with great certitude rest assured that’s not the case. Training focuses on best practices, while development focuses on next practices. Training is often a rote, one directional, one dimensional, one size fits all, authoritarian process that imposes static, outdated information on people. The majority of training takes place within a monologue (lecture/presentation) rather than a dialog. Perhaps worst of all, training usually occurs within a vacuum driven by past experience, not by future needs.
The Solution The solution to the leadership training problem is to scrap it in favor of development. Don’t train leaders, coach them, mentor them, disciple them, and develop them, but please don’t attempt to train them. Where training attempts to standardize by blending to a norm and acclimating to the status quo, development strives to call out the unique and differentiate by shattering the status quo. Training is something leaders dread and will try and avoid, whereas they will embrace and look forward to development. Development is nuanced, contextual, collaborative, fluid, and above all else, actionable.
The following 20 items point out some of the main differences between training and development:
1. Training blends to a norm – Development occurs beyond the norm.
2. Training focuses on technique/content/curriculum – Development focuses on people.
3. Training tests patience – Development tests courage.
4. Training focuses on the present – Development focuses on the future.
5. Training adheres to standards – Development focuses on maximizing potential.
6. Training is transactional – Development is transformational.
7. Training focuses on maintenance – Development focuses on growth.
8. Training focuses on the role – Development focuses on the person.
9. Training indoctrinates – Development educates.
10. Training maintains status quo – Development catalyzes innovation.
11. Training stifles culture – Development enriches culture.
12. Training encourages compliance – Development emphasizes performance.
13. Training focuses on efficiency – Development focuses on effectiveness.
14. Training focuses on problems – Development focuses on solutions.
15. Training focuses on reporting lines – Development expands influence.
16. Training places people in a box – Development frees them from the box.
17. Training is mechanical – Development is intellectual.
18. Training focuses on the knowns – Development explores the unknowns.
19. Training places people in a comfort zone – Development moves people beyond their comfort zones.
20. Training is finite – Development is infinite.
If what you desire is a robotic, static thinker – train them. If you’re seeking innovative, critical thinkers – develop them. I have always said it is impossible to have an enterprise which is growing and evolving if leadership is not.