A Typical Leadership Training Experience

leadership training must change

In early 2015, I attended a leadership training course hosted by a well-known and reputable training company.  It was at the conclusion of this course that I knew leadership training must change.  This experience sparked a change in my career path that put me on a mission to improve the way people learn how to be better leaders.

What happened?

The instructor told us stories about his days as an executive years ago where he stood at the helm and reported directly to the CEO.  It was a one-day training course and we covered a number of good, but predictable topics.  We reviewed the characteristics of a good leader, the importance of creating a solid mission statement, and spent the afternoon penning personal mission statements along with department mission statements that we were to bring back to our team at the office to get their buy-in.  Everyone who attended the course loved the experience and were enthusiastic about taking what they learned back to the office.  It was a good day and everyone felt accomplished when it was all said and done.  We even walked away with a workbook full of activities to complete on our own, all with the hopes of impacting the way we lead our teams.

Where did the enthusiasm go?

The first day back in the office, each manager returned to their teams and by the end of the first week, everyone had finalized their team mission statements.  Everyone did a great job at aligning their department statements with the company’s mission statement.  We had planned on meeting to review the activities in the workbook together during week two, but that meeting was trumped by another high-priority client meeting.  We had vowed to re-schedule the following week, but it never happened.

This same scenario has happened before

I found myself getting frustrated by the end of week three as everyone fell right back into their old ways.  I was frustrated at my team, but I was even more frustrated because this had happened before.  Not once, but many times before.  Being a leader and teaching others how to successfully lead was one of the favorite parts of my job and I felt uneasy by the fact that this important investment was so easily dismissed.

My leadership training epiphany

And then it hit me.  I thought about all of the leadership classes I had taken both as a technology professional and as a mountain rescue volunteer for the Las Vegas Metro Search and Rescue Unit.  The most useful leadership training sessions I attended were search and rescue related.  I learned the most in those training sessions and my team adopted much of what we learned because the courses were engaging, they were hands-on, and real-world scenarios were applied to each session.  We learned by doing and in some cases, we learned by making mistakes in a controlled environment.  We also took what we learned and applied changes that made sense as soon as the class was over.  We didn’t wait for time to pass, we took action and as a result, we were constantly growing and evolving as a search and rescue team.

This epiphany kept me up at night and eventually lead to the decision to start my own leadership training company.  It is time to change the way leadership is taught and these are some of the reasons why.

6 Reasons Why Leadership Training Must Change

1. Lectures are ineffective

Sitting in a room all day listening to a single person talk to us about leadership made the team enthusiastic about the idea of their role as a leader, but it didn’t help our team.  After thinking about it, we could’ve read a leadership book as a team and potentially gotten more out of that than what we did that day.  A large number of first-time directors were in this class with me and my feeling was that listening to someone who hadn’t been in the workforce for quite some time lecture at us wasn’t very effective.  Having him understand some of our issues and then giving us some hands-on training to help us address those issues would’ve been a better use of everyone’s time and money.

2. There’s a difference between managing and leading

I’ve attended countless professional leadership training courses over the past 20 years and there’s a big piece missing.  There’s a huge difference between being a manager and a leader and in my experience, my office teams really don’t understand how to differentiate between the two.  In search and rescue, we define a clear leader during all of our missions.  This person is in charge of the big picture and they’re not permitted to touch any of the equipment.  The team itself is full of managers.  Each person is in charge of their respective duty and it’s their responsibility to manage the gear and set up associated with their role only.  In simple terms, the leader of SAR missions thinks ahead and clears the path while managers oversee the tasks associated with their role assignment.  When I share this with my office teams, they begin to understand but there’s still more work and training for them to clearly understand the difference.  In the leadership class I attended in 2015, we defined what a leader was by writing words on a whiteboard, but I don’t think the team left with a clear idea of what their role as a leader within our organization should really be.

3. The management hierarchy has changed

We’re beginning to see a big shift in the way organization charts are outlined as evidenced by companies like Zappos who have shifted to a flat structure called holacracy.  Many younger companies and start-ups don’t have org charts – they have a flat structure where resources are pooled together as teams.  Although the org chart may be dying, these flat structures increase the importance of having sound leadership skills.  Managers aren’t specifically called out in job titles or assignments, which blurs the lines for working teams.  Instead, teams are left to name leaders depending on the project or situation and it’s crucial that people who are either placed in these roles or volunteer for them have a clear understanding of what leadership looks like so they can effectively lead their team to success.

4. Team members want to know why

I can’t remember the last time I provided direction to my team and didn’t get the question “why are we doing that?”  Leadership training classes seem to miss this point.  Long gone are the days where a manager gives direction and the team turns around, no questions asked, and performs the task at hand.  People want to know why they’re doing something, so whenever I give direction to my teams, I be sure to include the big picture details.  Not only is it beneficial for the team to understand how their work is impacting the organization, but it’s an easy way for me to say the direction out loud to verify that what we’re doing at the task level makes sense in the big scheme of things.

5. Old habits die hard

No matter how many times someone asks or tells you to do something, it’s very easy to slip right back into the old way of doing things.  In the search and rescue training sessions that I have attended, we made a conscious effort to evaluate everything new that we learned.  Anything that made sense for us to add to our repertoire of technical skills took extra effort to implement.  Our culture was to always improve and if we needed help implementing changes, we reached out to get the help we needed.  Follow-up is the missing component of typical leadership training courses.  Isn’t accountability a key component of a good leader?  If so, accountability is in the follow-up that comes after the training session is complete.

6. Millennials demand change

I hear and read about the challenges that millennials have introduced to the workforce and I’m left shaking my head.  The reality is that any generational label can be inserted in this statement and the same holds true.  Millennials are doing things differently, which forces the workforce to adjust.  Not only should the workforce adapt to these changes, but so should the way we talk about and teach leadership.  Adopting change is one of the most difficult things to do, not only as an individual, but as a team or an organization.  Your generation demanded change just like millennials are doing now, so it’s time to accept it and realize it’s good that things don’t always stay the same.

Leadership is in the doing

The leadership training epiphany that I experienced in 2015 hit me like a ton of bricks.  It awoke something inside of me that encouraged me to chase the dream that I’ve always had — to own my own business.  Leadership training must change and it’s the very reason why I started Leadership Excursion Co.  We are dedicated to teaching people how to be better leaders.  Our mission is to understand the needs of our clients, address those needs in hands-on, thoughtful leadership training sessions, and help to implement these changes in our client’s every day.