All Leadership Training Programs in companies start with good intentions and objectives, which is to provide as much knowledge and necessary skills to potential leaders to do their job efficiently and effectively
However, the implementation of the knowledge often get lost due to affordability, which varies as a function of companies’ fluctuating financial health being ever so erratical in our ever fast changing world economies.
From my studies there are 5 contributing factors to why leadership training programs could be a waste of time:
1. Company culture
Smaller companies in the range of 50 to 100 employees produce better results in developing next generation leaders compared to larger companies. This means higher employee retention and consistent growth of their bottom line. This requires that employees are highly engaged in everything they do, trusting each other to complete their work in time, and working on the same shared purpose.
But how do you get such employee commitment? Through company culture that creates an environment for people to behave like this.
So imagine an employee who has been promoted, lets call him David, and he is transitioning to become a team leader. Because of this change, his employer sends him to a leadership training program. He thought he actually learnt a lot from the training and was excited to implement what he had learnt in the workplace. Although being aware of the unpleasant company culture, he still puts hope that his efforts could change things. But what often happens is that a person like David often falls back to his old self, feeling frustrated not being able to implement what he had learnt because the company culture and the behaviours of other colleagues just do not allow it.
2. Employee behaviour
Being a sensitive and thus uncomfortable topic to address, employee behaviour is too often overlooked as long as the individual meets its business targets. Exemplary behaviour encompassing courage, empathy, clarity, coaching, show of confidence, show of trust is expected of a leader in a company. One of the most important criteria for changing behaviour is mind-set. Training on behavioural aspects required to be an effective leader are often included in leadership training programs. However a "controlling" mindset (I can’t lose my grip on the business; I’m personally accountable and only I should make the decisions) would hinder the transfer of trust and empowerment to employees.
Another factor that prevents leader to adopt behavioural change as learned in his leadership course is the lack of courage to change. To change a behaviour requires a person to act differently which directly means opening oneself to the risk of criticism, judgement and uncertainty.
In an ideal world, a supervisor could also be a coach to his or her 'potential leader'. Practicing skills learnt from leadership training in meetings, public-presentations, decision-making, writing, strategic planning and many more, with feedback from a coach would result in constant improvement and a better learning experience in addition to a training.
3. Employee expectation
Depending on which industry you are in, your company’s business can pretty much depend on the economic situation. When the economy is good, then automatically everyone is busy and the company is in under-capacity. When the economy is down, everyone is still busy as companies cut their human-resources in order to survive. The remaining people have to do all the work. So what do employees then think about trainings? …. a waste of time, especially for potential leaders that are transitioning into leading positions. The reason is because they have additional responsibilities on top of their current work that they have not been able to handover to their successor. Trainings take away their work time, so much so, they have to bring work home to reduce unanswered important emails before they get back to the office.
Potential leaders are often chosen to fill in available training spots as the company has already arranged or paid for them. Companies tend to spend more time on negotiating which training, how much they should costs etc.. with the training companies, but they absolutely have forgotten about the learning. So companies leave the learning all up to these potential leaders where learning expectations are neglected and whether or not the learnings are implemented at all.
Therefore, before each training session, their superior should set learning expectations and specific objectives and link it to their personal development plan. This would increase the motivation of the individual and generate the confidence that the company is looking after him or her in their personal and professional growth. In addition, follow-up is very important as it encourages the individual to thrive in reaching his goals set by his superior.
4. Changing environment
Our work environment is very dynamic, even dramatic, especially for companies that do not have good leadership or positive culture. The element that most and often contribute to this dynamism is the human resources area, especially when new managers to come lead teams. When a new manager comes in, drastic changes that follow could be detrimental; managerial and organizational barriers e.g. lack of strategic clarity, politically charged environment, different top-down leadership style and cross-functional conflict. There is usually also little to no follow up from previous strategies or programs, especially if the new manager joins from another company.
Another scenario that often happens when a manager leaves is to promote the second best in the team or the department. This is the easiest and quite a common practice but most of the time, not an effective one. The reason is that this potential leader now, the second best, is transitioning to a managerial role, because the company is desperate to fill this position and to have a leader to lead this team or department. In such situations, there is usually not enough time to provide any training to this new leader. Once he assumes the new role, all the workload starts piling in front of him, that in the end, we go back to the previous point earlier where the individual views training as waste of time.
Another changing environment is these high-priority needs like turning around a sales region, accelerating a product innovation, or digitizes company's internal process, effective leadership in these company internal projects is essential to its success from initiation to implementation and usage.
Therefore, there should be on-boarding programs that incorporate leadership training programs designed for potential leaders who are transitioning, where learning expectations and specific objectives are linked to personal development.
5. Training Program
Most leadership training focuses on improving general management skills, goal setting and performance appraisal skills and most training program initiatives assumes that one-size fit all classroom trainings regardless of company strategy, organizational culture and higher leadership is appropriate.
When we think about why these potential leaders are chosen to go to a Leadership Training Program, it is because they are transitioning into a leading position e.g. having direct reports and the biggest change from before is that now, this potential leader will have people reporting to him / her and he or she has to lead these people. So knowing how to lead a team in all aspects is important and absolutely necessary to do his job. But what is often forgotten or has very little focus is the training to enhance interpersonal skills, how to make high-quality decisions, strong coaching skills, and working on developing their strengths. And study shows that most leadership training programs are lacking this individuality aspect that target on building up the potential leader’s strength and develop the skill to delegate tasks that they are not good at to people who are better suited to the task.
The most effective leadership training is to use methods that offer opportunities to learn from specific, relevant situations. And we need to use more methods that allow for reflection. But we have to take care not to fall into the trap of selecting trainings that stand out with whistles and bells and do not contribute to effective leadership training. For example, to standout, some training include outdoor activities that are fun but does not help to make you a better leader. So none of these trendy methods seem to do much about helping anyone learn about leadership. They are just a fun way to spend the training budget.
So leadership development needs to be tied to real on-the-job projects that have a business impact and improve learning.
Of all the 5 contributing factors to why leadership training could be a waste of time, the number one factor that has the most weight is ‘company culture’. Company culture is the environment that individuals are exposed to 8 hours or more a day and is a big part of every individual’s life. The company is also where business and social activities come together which should be encouraged.
When we ask ourselves, what is culture? It’s made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes and behaviours shared by a group of people. Culture is the behaviour that results when a group arrives at a set of – generally unspoken and unwritten – rules for how they will work together. Healthy company culture indicates healthy leadership in a company because it is the responsibility of leaders to supply a healthy environment for their people. Ultimately companies are looking for employees who are culturally fitting to their company culture; same beliefs and values. Therefore before companies invest further in any leadership training programs, they should first take a look at their company culture through the behaviour and the interaction of their people with each other because personalities and experiences shape the culture of the company.
As difficult as it may be to change any culture, persistence, discipline, employee involvement, kindness and understanding, organization development work, and training can assist in changing a company culture. Companies should ensure that before they spend more time and money in equipping potential leaders with the knowledge and skills to lead, they should first create the environment for them to implement and practice.