Why Leadership Training Doesn’t Work (And What Actually Does)
Whether you own a business or you’re spending most of your time on your nine-to-five, leadership skills have never been more important for one simple reason: so many more of us are on our own. Last year the percent of Americans working from home nearly doubled from 22% to 42%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Anyone working independently needs to be a problem-solver, a critical thinker, a self-manager, a decision-maker and ultimately, a leader. The problem is that while an encouraging 83% of organizations believe it’s important to develop leaders at all levels, only 5% have taken action to actually do so in their companies. Another concern: while it’s tempting to think that leadership training is the solution, some experts say it’s not as effective as leadership development.
“Leadership training is a series of one-off training events that aren’t effective because they’re theoretical,” explains Nanette Miner, an organizational development expert with three decades of experience who has worked with small, entrepreneurial ventures as well as Fortune 100 companies. “Leadership development, on the other hand, builds skills over time and in the moments that they’re needed. That’s what works.”
Follow Miner’s advice and avoid the top three leadership training mistakes that most enterprises are guilty of. Whether you’re hiring a contractor, a virtual assistant or a vice president of sales, shifting your view of leadership development will help you improve recruitment, boost retention and increase productivity.
1. Don’t Wait Too Long For Learning
Most people get promoted or transition to entrepreneurship based on their hard skills: copywriting, statistical analysis, or project management, for example. But Miner says great leaders spend the majority of their time utilizing soft skills such as listening, providing constructive feedback, coaching, demonstrating emotional intelligence, and more.
“Waiting until you’re thrust into a leadership role to develop soft skills often means you’ll need to unlearn years of bad behavior, such as lashing out at someone when they miss a deadline or being unsympathetic to a client’s inconvenient but very valid health concern,” says Miner. “The hardest thing to accomplish via training is to change someone’s behavior, so the longer you wait, the harder it will be to develop a capable leader.”
“When clients engage me to help them strategize their leadership development approach, the number one thing I recommend is to start early,” says Miner. There are many small but purposeful things you can do to begin building soft skills incrementally. Miner suggests taking an assessment to understand communication preferences or volunteering with a professional association to become more comfortable with public speaking or learn project management skills.
“A rising tide truly lifts all boats,” says Miner. “There is no detriment to having everyone in your organization be a better communicator or better at self-management.” When you master soft skills yourself, your colleagues and employees will have more trust in you, respect for you and motivation to do a great job because they’ll be supported by you as an outstanding leader.
2. Don’t Let Development Occur In A Vacuum
“Most leadership development occurs in a four-hour class on giving feedback or a three-day workshop on coaching skills,” says Miner. “The problem with this approach to development is that it’s a contrived environment. As someone who designed workplace training for decades, I can guarantee you that whatever the exercise, case study, or assignment given, it will end favorably for the learner, because it is designed to do so.” Bottom line: when you train people through classes and events, whether you’re instructing them on soft skills, operational topics or even self-management techniques, it’s not real-world enough to make the training stick.
Instead, Miner suggests developing leadership skills in situ. If you need to give your virtual assistant corrective feedback or have a hard conversation with a project manager you’ve been working with for over a year, that is an ideal time to learn the process for giving corrective feedback and setting non-negotiables for change in their behavior. To prepare for the conversation, ask the advice of a more senior manager, consult a coach, or watch a training video on YouTube or LinkedIn Learning. Without the real-world application, you could have learned the process in a training class eight months ago but not remember how to do it at the time of need.
3. Don’t Pick And Choose Leaders
Many organizations decide who will be a future leader at the company based on on-the-job performance or personality traits. “I always joke that this is like planting my garden in the spring but then identifying only three tomato plants that I want to make it through until the fall,” says Miner. “Why wouldn’t I want to nurture all of the plants? Why wouldn’t you want to get the most productivity out of every employee?” Picking and choosing who will be favored with leadership development hampers the potential of the organization as a whole.
A better approach is to provide leadership skills development for all individuals. “Not only will people flock to you and your company when they know you value their professional development, but you will reap the rewards of increased capability and productivity throughout the organization,” says Miner.
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