Why Leadership Training Often Fails

There is a very simple reason why leadership training fails in so many companies across America, and it’s the same reason a lot of training fails. It’s both easy to identify, and simple to understand, yet it can be very difficult to solve. Keep reading to find out what it is and get some tips on how to solve it!

As record numbers of Baby Boomers retire, leadership positions pass to Gen X’ers  and Millenials. A massive transition is underway in America and companies have eager, but often untested employees raising their hands to take on mantles of leadership. In the process of promoting new leaders, many organizations discovered the best-qualified individuals still lacked basic leadership skills. This resulted in lower team performance, higher turnover, and missed goals.

To meet this challenge, organizations began instituting training programs to develop leadership skill-sets in their new promotees. Applying best practices in adult learning, these programs often mixed live training, reading, on-the-job training, peer groups, and self-reflection. But some programs failed because they lacked a key component in leadership training – post-training follow-up and support.

Think of it this way: imagine you live in the early 1900s and you’ve decided to design and build this new thing called an automobile. As a forward thinker, you recognize what a difference this new form of transportation can make, so you gather together the best mechanical engineers and craftsmen you can to work on your team. You get everything right. The car is beautiful, it runs smoothly, and is everything you’d hoped and dreamed.

The day comes where you make your first sales and soon your little town has fifteen cars running around. But after a week, you notice the new owners have all gone back to riding horses. How can this be? you ask. After interviewing each of the new owners, you quickly realize your mistake.

After teaching them how to fuel and maintain their new autos, you never followed-up to make sure they understood and could put their new knowledge into practice. Overwhelmed with all the change, the owners failed to practice their new skills and reverted back to old habits. The autos soon were parked until they “had time” to do maintenance on them.

Leadership training often suffers from the same errors. An incredible curriculum is written and rolled-out, teaching every concept these new leaders will need. The curriculum, developed in alignment with organization goals and executive input, also incorporated input from frontline managers, and other key department stakeholders. It exactly met the gaps identified in your research and set up new leaders for great success.

But for those new leaders, it’s also slightly overwhelming. The curriculum, for some, calls on them to change everything about how they lead others. For others, they need to incorporate major shifts in thinking. When they get back to their jobs, they fail to implement their new knowledge because they run into roadblocks they aren’t sure how to solve, and it becomes easier to “just do it the old way.”

So how do learning and development teams build follow-up and support into their plans? Here are some ideas for consideration:

  • Start with the end in mind. As you develop the leadership curriculum, keep at the forefront of your planning that you will need to provide follow-up and performance support to the newly trained leaders. Just like a good job description, try to make the key items of your curriculum measurable so you can gauge the success or challenges of the learners.
  • Provide multiple methods of follow-up. Some learners will be successful if you just provide them reminders of what they learned. Other learners will need one-on-one coaching to work through issues. Be prepared with multiple tool options that the learner can self-select to help them implement their new training.
  • Train the learner’s managers on what to expect and how to support them. The direct supervisors of the learners will be most aware of the success or failure of the training, so guide them through the analysis and support process ahead of time. This will prepare them to reinforce what you are teaching. Oh, and don’t forget to tell them the why behind the training.
  • Give the learners limited coaching sessions they can use as they see a need. This is an idea I got from Google’s management training program. Give the learner (for example) two 30-minute coaching sessions they can use with an experienced manager or HR, at will, whenever they feel the need arises. It allows them to self-direct their support and use the time on a deep-felt need.
  • Create peer groups. Set-up an online or in-person peer support group where they can openly share successes and failures, and coach each other through challenges. This also serves to knit the fabric of the organization closer together.

There are many more ways to support the curriculum, but ensuring you have a clear plan in mind is the critical first-step.


This entry was posted in Analysis, Assessment, Development, Training. Bookmark the permalink.

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