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Why Doesn’t Leadership Training Work?

While listening recently to an excellent audiobook by James Hunter (The Servant Leadership Training Course), I was not surprised to learn that on average only 10% of corporate leadership training attendees implement sustained behavioral change. This factoid confirmed what I have observed over the past 30 years: that training programs often get people’s heads nodding about the need for personal change, but then fail to drive change.

Now I find a fine article by Marshall and Kelly Goldsmith that argues that the problem is not with the training, but with attendee’s level of caring and commitment. They write:

“To become a better leader, you must have the fire within to change, do the actual work, and … have the humility and courage to discuss your progress with a colleague.”

Hmmm. I don’t disagree – in the end, it’s always an individual responsibility to drive personal change. But I have rarely seen attendees who were not fired up about change, and yet they fail. So I believe there is also fault in how most training programs are designed.

It is not uncommon at the end of training programs to ask trainees to write their goals for change and maybe even add a specific action or two. Sometimes this gets sealed in an envelope and mailed to the attendee a few months later as a reminder.

Not enough.

No successful project manager would be that sketchy.

Trainers should instead take a project management approach to driving change. The trainee must make develop a specific action plan with tracking metrics and milestones, clear process, and public accountability.

Goldsmith, in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, offers an outstanding method for driving significant personal change, one that I have used successfully with clients. It requires a high level of commitment and vulnerability – the willingness to expose both your frailties and desire to change to others, and enroll them in helping you create the change. But this approach almost certainly requires a coach, which is not always feasible.

I believe trainers could approximate something like this by directing trainees to develop measurable goals and very granular action plans, then building a process that makes them accountable to each other for follow up. Have them check in frequently with each other to report progress and receive feedback. Ideally, each person’s action plan would include soliciting regular feedback from a broader circle.

I have not implemented something like this, and would love to hear from anyone who has.

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