Is leadership training worth it?

Photo of a class of adult students asleep with their heads on the desksHave you put your emerging leaders through a leadership development program?

Or maybe you’ve attended such a program yourself – or even taken the plunge to get an MBA?

Was it worth it?

I’m asking that very seriously, because from where I’m sitting – looking at the programs, talking with people who’ve taken them – I’m sincerely not convinced.

I think most leadership skills development programs available today rely on old models of education and old models of what leadership really is.

This old way relies on “best practices” that are in and of themselves old, arising out of an industrial-era command-and-control hierarchical approach that’s no longer relevant. Making matters worse, they often employ training techniques that are similarly out of date.

It relies on an intensive educational process that puts cohorts of aspiring leaders through a set curriculum. Everyone’s on the same page at the same time, which restricts and even eliminates opportunities to learn from fellow leaders’ varying levels of learning and experience.

Because the curriculum is set, it’s inflexible. This limits – or even eliminates – in-the-moment teaching of important concepts and skills responding to students’ real-world situations. And the facilitator’s or instructor’s own developing understanding and ongoing learning has no outlet for expression within this teaching model.

Furthermore, these programs often teach from case studies, which have two important drawbacks.

Case studies are by definition historical. Situations such as Enron or Wells Fargo (classic business-school case studies) are presented as self-contained big-bang events. But that’s not how they happen. These corporate meltdowns unravel gradually in small incremental steps. Case studies don’t provide detailed insight into those small steps, and therefore don’t teach useful ways to spot problems before they mushroom out of control.

Largely because of this, case studies are really hard for the emerging leader to translate into their actual situations and experiences, and so have little practical relevance to their leadership growth.

So what do students learn from case studies? They learn how to debate history.

They don’t learn how to identify and divert or mitigate early-stage problems within their own organization and its culture.

The old way of teaching leadership is also expensive, sometimes prohibitively so. High-value programs generally come with correspondingly high prices, putting them out of reach for any significant population of first-line managers and leaders in your organization.

But it’s exactly those first-line managers and leaders who have the highest impact on your employee population as a whole, and therefore – let’s be real! – on the overall success or failure of both your day-to-day operation and your mission-critical strategic initiatives.

What if there were an affordable, flexible, practical way to provide high-impact leadership skills training to the people in your organization who need it most – who need it before they falter, stumble, and fail, who need it so that they become high-potential leaders leading high-performing teams?