Why Leadership Training Fails

Over the last few weeks in these posts and A Daily Dose Of Leadership, we worked through a question so many organizations need to answer (Why is Leadership Development Important?), then we made the rubber meet the road by Defining Leadership Development. With that foundation under our belts, let’s close the loop here by digging into Why Leadership Training Fails.

As we ate lunch recently, a friend of mine who is relatively new to our area made a comment about how interested he was in having intentional interaction with other local leaders. He’s in a relatively high profile public sector position and has regular conversation with several of his peers in local government positions but he mentioned that even within that community, the views on leadership could vary significantly. He also tossed out the number of leadership books that are currently in print as he pointed out the vast differences in perspective you could find depending on where you looked. As I dug for stats for this message, I found a blog from the Harvard Division of Continuing Education citing a recent survey stating “there are more than 15,000 books on leadership in print.”

For years now, I’ve been saying the word leadership is used far too loosely. In many cases, we refer to the person responsible for making decisions as the leader - whether that be in a company, in government, or in a volunteer organization. While getting results with a team of volunteers typically requires more authentic leadership than most positions that can withhold pay or lock someone up, having a title or the ability to make decisions that impact others shouldn't be automatically equated to earned leadership. And all it really takes to print a book referencing leadership is a little bit of time and money… I’m absolutely certain that Amazon isn’t reviewing credentials or accomplishments before they accept payment to begin printing!

What does this have to do with why leadership training fails? This really ties back to defining leadership development as a whole, and it means we need to understand just how difficult leading can really be! In a Forbes article, Peter Bregman shared “What makes leadership hard isn’t the theoretical, it’s the practical. It’s not knowing what to say or do. It’s about whether you’re willing to experience the discomfort, risk, and uncertainty of saying or doing it.”

The wide gap between knowing and doing, especially when it comes to leading effectively, can be one of the biggest reasons why leadership training fails. We’ll look at that in more detail in the next post. For now though, let’s just consider the difference between practice and theory…

I often hesitate to use the word coaching in describing anything Cindy and I do because of the sheer amount of individuals I’ve seen branding themselves as a this-coach or a that-coach. While coaching can make a huge impact on achieving tangible results, adding a coaching certification to your name isn’t even as difficult as getting Amazon to print your leadership book. In both cases, money talks… The separation boils down to practical experience and real results - both as an individual in a leadership role and in mentoring others to lead effectively! I’ve heard it said that qualified beats certified all day long. When it comes to why leadership training fails, teaching on a theory can’t hold a candle to practical experience...

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