Knowing is the Easy Part. It’s the Doing that’s Tough!

In his Forbes article, Peter Bregman commented “I’ve never seen a leader fail because he or she didn’t know enough about leadership. In fact, I can’t remember ever meeting a leader who didn’t know enough about leadership.” But knowing and doing are two very different things, huh…?

During the dozen or so years I oversaw a behavior-based safety process for my home facility and traveled across North America training folks on that process in other facilities, one of my responsibilities was to attend an annual conference on the topic so I could learn about new developments in the field while bench-marking with my peers from other companies around the world. I always left that three day event with pages of notes and dozens of business cards for people I could connect with moving forward to bounce ideas around. The challenge was always in having time to ensure the rubber met the road… Between the travel/training schedule and the full time role I was attempting to hold together at home, slow days just didn’t exist. I had to be extremely intentional about dedicating the time and energy necessary to identify which ideas could make the most immediate impact then work with the amazing team around me to put them into action - all while keeping everything else moving forward. Knowledge was never the bottleneck, time was! Had I not been held accountable to take action and show a tangible return on investment into attending that event, the training I attended would have been viewed as a failure.

With regards to why leadership training fails, having accountability to actually apply the information covered is significant - and we’ll look at that in more detail soon. Time is also an issue; it’s a rarity for someone to be in a role with leadership responsibility and have an abundance of free time - especially after being out of their office for a half day or more to take part in any type of training. But over the last two decades, I’ve seen one specific thing prevent more good people from leading effectively than time and accountability combined: fear!

The large majority of people who I’ve seen accept leadership roles have genuinely cared about the people they’re leading and the organization they’re a part of. While a few are certainly chasing prestige or power, I believe that’s the exception to the rule. In reality, the additional workload and stress is rarely worth what’s typically just a slight increase in pay. Those who move into roles like this for selfish motives are exposed pretty quickly…

With the bulk of the folks in leadership positions genuinely caring about the teams they lead, the fear I referenced isn’t tied to being afraid of any one person. The fear that I’ve seen get in the way of effective leadership has largely been a fear of hurting the individuals in question. In so many cases, it’s tough for the leader to have frank conversations and hold team members accountable when they’ve performed poorly because they care deeply about those team members. This often paralyzing fear can play a significant role in why leadership training fails! Knowing exactly what should be done in any given situation is relatively simple when compared with the pressure associated with taking action on that knowledge you’re concerned about how it will impact the person you’re need to address. Cindy and I address this more in Navigating Leadership Roadblocks and cover it in even more detail in Emerging Leader Development...

While there’s certainly no easy fix for this, it really begins with being able to separate behaviors from individuals and establishing accountability - the same kind of accountability with our team members that we need to have with our leaders in order to prevent leadership training from failing. When that kind of accountability is in place, we will begin to have an atmosphere that removes some of the fear. Then we can focus on clearly defined goals for taking action on what’s learned in any type of training rather than just going back to business as usual. We’ll dig into that next time...

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