Why Leadership Training Fails and What to Do About It
Every company has a distinct mission to ensure that their leaders are capable and good enough to keep the company’s bottom line in good shape.
One of the ways higher management employs is insisting on sending a particular number of people to leadership training.
In hindsight, it is one of the most essential things that they do to ensure a good future for the company.
Even though it has become a common practice to prepare a certain number of ambitious people for their eventual role that the company has groomed them for, those leadership training programs are not as reliable as the higher-ups think.
There is a number of reasons that these kinds of “preparation programs” such as leadership training and team building, among others, are not a good bang for your buck, ignoring the plethora of ways one can substitute these programs with another form of training, along the way.
However, you should not firmly believe that it is a waste of money; these kinds of training programs do bring additional benefits to the participants, indeed, but the main goal of becoming a universally better leader is not always neither achieved nor guaranteed.
So, in further writing of the text, you will learn more about these programs and what they are all about, the disadvantages they bring to the corporations, some other ways that are proven to be a good substitution for leadership training programs, and what should be the main focus of a person who wants to be a leader and how to attain the position.
Near the end of the text, you will find a questionnaire that you can use to see whether your investments in leadership development programs were fruitful or detrimental.
LEADERSHIP TRAINING PROGRAMS – WHAT ARE THEY?
Leadership training programs are programs that are aimed at training an individual and developing the skills that might help them when they acquire a leadership position in their companies.
Leadership development programs have been an interesting puzzle piece of researchers since the 1950s, when the United States Army conducted an experiment where they focused on building on leadership skills, fearing that the army personnel lacked sufficient skills needed to be competent leaders.
Leadership as a term and idea was examined and researched as early as the 1920s.
Since then, the leadership development programs have been improved upon to this very day in its long history of existence.
The leadership development program of the United States Army was borrowed by the Boy Scouts of America and changed to suit their needs, and later on, the program changed hands until it came to the Rockefeller Foundation in the 1970s and was adapted for the use in corporative leadership development.
Usually, the success of the leadership development program is highly dependent on the participants’ characteristics, primarily willingness and tenacity, and it highly depends on the quality of the leadership development program itself.
The program can be a top-quality endeavor, but everything will be in vain if the participants are not willing to cooperate and progress. The same goes if the participants are willing and ready, but the leadership development program is not adequate or well-thought.
The majority of leadership training programs can be broken down into several stages that they cover.
The first stage is learning, which is done through concrete experience by observation and reflection, and finally, testing the knowledge in the new situations.
The second stage is self-efficacy or the belief that one should instill into themselves that they are sure and reliable of their own skills and the certainty that those skills will produce effects that will prove to be beneficial to the whole collective body of workers and company as a whole.
The third stage is the development of visioning, or the ability of the person to clearly see the future of the company and the department they lead and be able to set clear goals for them.
And finally, working on the work attitude of the future leader, to be an inspiring leader in order to motivate their team and ensure the success of any projects or overcoming any problems that might pop up during their tenure.
Of course, these stages are just something that can be found in most of the leadership training programs, but in conclusion, the most common definition or end goal of every leadership training program is to help the participants develop particular skills and cultivate certain characteristics that will help them to be good in that leadership position.
The skills that are included in almost every leadership development programs are, but not limited to:
Coaching, which basically teaches the participant and the future leader to encourage and teach their team members valuable lessons that provide the necessary experience to both the members of the team and the leader of the team.
It also boosts engagement in the workplace and the productivity of the leader’s team.
Accountability, which is basically making the future leader understand that they should stand behind every decision and outcome of the effort of the team, no matter whether it is a good result or a bad result.
In this case, the leader will learn to work with their team and be a leader, not give orders and be a boss.
Finally, communication, which can be viewed as a foundation for every good relationship between a leader and the team they manage.
Of course, there are many other important traits but these might be ones that are, in the majority of times, needed the most and are taught in leadership development programs.
Leadership training programs are not necessarily bad, they do, however, have certain disadvantages that are inescapably linked with them which may prove to be detrimental in the long run.
WHY ARE LEADERSHIP TRAINING PROGRAMS BAD FOR A COMPANY?
One of the most obvious disadvantages is the cost of leadership development programs.
According to the site specializing in leadership programs, the cost varies from 200 dollars per hour to 1000 dollars per day, or 3000 dollars per person, depending on the firm that organizes such events.
The problem is that by investing finances into these programs is not a guarantee that your future leaders will definitely be a good leader. One should do extensive research into the programs before enlisting their workers there.
Another variable is the participant or participants.
They are only humans, after all, with a different mindset, different worldviews, and completely different characteristics. Some of the programs might not be suitable for particular groups of people, which in the end might be a wasted investment.
Another disadvantage is that these programs share the most detrimental thing, the same as the team-building activities: participating people tend to connect the experience gained to the situation in which they happened to be when they first felt it.
In other words, people in leadership training programs will learn in theory how they should behave in certain situations, but when they find themselves in differing situations and in an uncontrolled environment, they tend to forget or fail to apply the learned to the current situation or problem.
Some of the core concepts of taught leadership skills might stay with the fresh leaders, but some minute details about certain situations would fade out quickly.
The key is the integration of the experiences of the program to the experiences of the job and focusing less on the passive methods of teaching.
Another disadvantage is the companies’ idea behind the leadership training programs.
For some companies, it is just an item on the notepad that they check and that it is sure given that the worker will come back from the leadership training program as a prodigy leader that will prove to be the best leader ever, but that is rarely the case.
The reasons are numerous, it might be that the upper management has possibly found an inadequate leadership training program for the particular workers, or that they simply have not invested enough time in researching which leadership training programs are well-thought and good, or maybe they wanted to save some money and opted for a cheaper program.
Furthermore, the participants of the leadership development programs might think that after passing the courses, they are completely ready to assume the role of the team leader, without any will to continue improving themselves.
These leadership training programs sometimes paint the wrong picture to their participants in a way that the participants believe that they learned everything there is to learn about being a leader.
Thus, they will not be ready to cope with a possible failure of a project, due to them not wanting to continue improving upon themselves.
Always be aware of the fact that experience is the best teacher and no matter how hard you have been taught and prepared for every possible situation that might be thrown at you, there will always be a new problem that has never surfaced before and that has never been tackled.
That is more often than not a problem with some graduates: their belief that they are well-prepared because of the program, which can prove to be a problem in later projects.
Another disadvantage that comes from these leadership development programs is the fact that sometimes transition becomes a problem to the program “graduates”.
For example, the company might have replaced an old leader with our new program graduate.
The problem arises in the transition period.
The team members have been relying on a system that was established by the old leader, and the transition to a new system of work might prove to be a difficult one if the new leader is unable to adapt to the previously established system.
This is something that a leadership training program cannot teach because it is a big variable. Different people have different points of view and different systems that evolved during their tenure as leaders.
It is simply impossible to prepare a person for any combination of systems, which is why these leadership training programs are not as useful as many people think.
Those variables that are unpredictable can be simply called barriers.
Those barriers can cause the inexperienced but theoretically ready leader to have many problems, such as unclear directions and problems with prioritizing, inability to control or coordinate the members of their teams, and many more.
As Rey Misoles, a Management Consultant, describes, those leadership training programs are just events that have a beginning and an end, but to truly learn how to be leader, that learning itself is a process that lasts way longer and goes past the ending of any leadership training program.
One of the most hurtful disadvantages is the leadership styles these programs preach about.
There are many styles of leadership and the amount of time or focus a certain leadership development program spends on depends on the programs themselves.
There are a large number of styles, and even though depending on some of them can bring even more disadvantages to a leader and their team, it is useful to at least be aware of them.
Some programs, however, tend to focus on a few styles that might not suit the situation or the company for which a certain participant is preparing to become a leader.
Maybe that particular style is not in synchronization with the previous style of the former leader, causing the aforementioned problem of failing to adapt to previous leader’s system, or the new team members are simply not used to the new style of leadership and cannot be utilized correctly using, for instance, a democratic style but are best accustomed to a more directive-based style with supplying the members of the team with as many pieces of information as possible.
The styles have evolved over time, but sometimes it is not important to learn every style by heart, as it does not guarantee success.
Furthermore, there is another reason why leadership programs might be a complete failure. They can teach leaders to focus too much on changing policies instead of teaching them how to change their minds and mindsets.
If you wish to learn about leadership styles in-depth, this article might be an interesting read for you.
In addition, get to know your leadership traits before you embark on an entrepreneurial journey towards becoming a leader.
IS THERE A WAY TO BECOME A BETTER LEADER WITHOUT RELYING ON THE LEADERSHIP PROGRAMS?
Before you continue reading, be aware that not all leadership training programs are bad, there are some that prepare participants excellently, but the majority of them is just that, a preparation.
Finishing a leadership development program is the first step that leads to a long learning process.
This step will mostly help you along the way, but is not an essential step; there are a few ways one can learn to be a good leader without completely relying on some leadership development programs.
One of the most advantageous ways to become a better leader is to learn through experience.
To use an example of Hollywood movie-making, Jon Favreau, an actor turned director, mostly learned from being close to the directors of films he starred in, always asking questions and being interested in different styles of directing.
Now he is one of the key directors of Disney, popularizing their projects. Following that path, you should observe how leaders around you behave, how they cope with problems that arise suddenly, ask for their advice and how would they tackle certain problems.
Learn and soak every piece of information they might have for you, and then start small, doing some smaller projects before moving to bigger ones. Learn to fail and bounce back, because failure is a standard event that happens in every job, and learn from that, too. Be willing to learn.
Develop characteristics that all leaders should have. The development of characteristics must come from within you, from your willingness and discipline.
After training that, aspire to achieve the traits of honesty, as your members of your team will respect you more; be more empathic, so to understand your members of your team more and cater to their needs; be more communicative with them, the exchange of information should be of utmost importance between the two sides; be passionate about your projects, passion is a trait that is easily transmitted to others, making your team members passionate about the project, as well.
There are a great number of traits that will help you become a better leader, the only thing you have to be is ready to improve and work more on you.
If you are in a higher position, your ways of improving leaders are a bit different.
The best thing a boss can do is to know their candidates for leadership positions. Know their every weakness and strength.
If you know that, then you know what their talents are; focus on that talent and surround the future leader with people who will show them how to utilize that talent the best and cultivate the talent and the leader.
This can be done by following a few simple steps: define their value to the team and show inspiring goals and direction, coach them daily and help them be more effective in different situations through practical teaching, provide teaching and training where you find it needed, evaluate and promote their talent in order for them to apply them to appropriate situations.
As mentioned, the future leader will learn the best from live and practical experiences where that particular talent will not be underutilized.
One of the best traits that you should show the future leaders is to learn to adapt to any situation and not go looking for patterns that are not there in order to apply the pre-established solution.
Finally, be aware that if sometimes you cannot clearly find a particular talent or a worthy trait in a person, sometimes developing the said person to be more capable is the smartest move, because the leadership characteristic might form later.
Is the team given a clear strategy and are given individual tasks that are understood?
The communication between the leader and the team is essential for the success of any project. If there is no distinct job allocation between the team members, there is a high risk of the project falling behind schedule and the members of the team being underutilized or demoralized due to the ineptness of the leader of the team.
Is the team allowed to openly provide feedback about possible solutions to hurdles or ways to increase effectiveness and performance to the whole team, including the leader?
The possible problem here might be a leadership style that enforces discipline and hierarchy more than an openly cooperative surrounding. As mentioned in the article, many leadership development programs are known to invest time in a particular few leadership styles, there might be a gap between the style that a leader has been taught and the effect it has on the team, thus not being able to cooperatively and easily bring the project to a close.
Has the team easily redesigned its organization, working systems, and practices in order to better fit in the vision of the new leader?
In this case, time is what counts as a successful transition. When there is a change of management, sometimes there is a transitional period in which a leader establishes a new working system. Sometimes the transition goes smoothly, sometimes, however, it knows to be stretched out in order for the team members to get better accustomed to it.
The more time is spent on the transitional period, the less is spent on the project, which might become jeopardized.
Is there a chance for the employees to be coached and helped on the job so that they can attain new skills and become achieve what is desired from them in the work sense?
If there is such a project in a corporation, there is a high chance that a more capable worker will be a result. Not only is it a benefit for the company, as it shows that it cares for its workers and their set of skills but also provides the necessary experience by the more veteran workers on higher positions to hone the skills of promising workers and prepare them to take the reins of more difficult projects later on.
Do training programs properly support the needs the corporation has of the participant it sent, and can each participants’ newly acquired leadership and other necessary skills be fully and successfully be utilized in the company?
The big question that can be answered after thorough research and evaluation of the leadership development programs a certain company is thinking of sending their workers to being concluded. Is it beneficial to the worker? Is it beneficial to the company? If you have done the necessary research correctly, then you will know the answer to the question.
If your answers to any of these questions are negative, you or your company have probably, no matter whether out of the best of intentions or not, over-invested in training and education and failed to put talent development in its proper allocation slots.
Most companies do not take their time to think and envision whether such an endeavor will prove to be beneficial, for the future of the company and for the workers that have been sent to participate in the leadership training programs.
If your answers were mostly positive to these questions about the leadership development program, then there is a high possibility that you have set your company’s future on the right path or have been successfully set on the path for your skills to be nurtured by the company, which also shows that you have their trust and that they are willing to invest in your abilities and talents so that you can ensure the future of their company for time to come.
This also shows that the company is aware of the leadership development programs and their ability to be both detrimental and beneficial to everyone, and is willing to invest time and money to better the workers and thus better the company, as well.
Globally, many companies invest billions of dollars in leadership training programs. Having said that, a small percent of the companies actually see a difference in terms of the performance of their newly appointed leaders.
Even though leadership training programs can be helpful and provide a good foundation in knowledge of how to become a better leader, there is a lot more that needs to be done in order to make an excellent leader out of a worker.
Leadership training programs can be a transformative experience for every participant, but the main molding of the potential leader is yet to come.
Above all, the system needs to be changed, or adapted, rather, to the one they learn about, or vice versa.
The largest problem is that the practice is a different monster than theoretical readiness.
All in all, one must always be aware of the fact that the leadership development programs should be understood as stepping stones to the experience that they should be exposed to by other veterans in the company, who will further show the future leaders the ropes and groom them for future projects that they will control, while the future leaders should always work on themselves and their advantages and disadvantages and always strive for self-improving so to become the best possible version of themselves.