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29 OCTOBER 2020
What’s wrong with leadership training?

by Alan Hosking: Publisher of HR Future, South Africa's human strategy magazine, and a Leadership Renewal Coach for senior executives.

Just when we think we’ve got it together, Nature has a way of exposing the frailties of humanity in ways we could never anticipate or imagine. The Covid pandemic has been one of those cases. With what’s happened in the past six months, every business leader, no matter how experienced or competent, has been effectively reduced to a novice once again.

While that may sound harsh, it’s not intended as a criticism. It’s nobody’s fault that the world and the world of work have changed irrevocably in a matter of months, rendering most of the skills that leaders used pre-Covid fairly irrelevant.

And so, for those leaders serious about making it beyond Covid, it’s back to leadership school.

Now that’s not a comfortable thought for leaders used to being in control. Whereas changes in the past have taken hundreds, thousands or even millions of years, in the blink of an eye that could actually be measured in weeks, every person tasked with leading a company or business entity, was forced to make big decisions that were not optional – decisions which robbed them of the power (or perceived power) they had been wielding to date.

And a virus few had previously heard of drew a line in the sand, marking the end of the world of work as we knew it pre-Covid 19 and the start of a new world of work that continues to emerge after the 2020 lockdown. The frightening thing is that no-one knows what the emerging post-lockdown world is actually going to be like when the dust finally settles.

So how does one train leaders to cope with this?

You don’t.

That is, you don’t TRAIN them

Well, that’s what Fortune 500 Leadership Adviser and Author, Mike Myatt, says.

You don’t train them. You develop them.

Myatt draws an important distinction between training and development. According to him, training is about imparting skills to people for maintaining the present and not preparing people for the future. He says training is driven by past experience and not by future needs. He further claims that training imposes outdated information on people and focuses on best practices. Now, focusing on best practices may sound pretty impressive to you, but Myatt makes the point that, while training focuses on best practices, development focuses on next practices.

So, while training focuses on how things are done right now or in the past, according to Myatt, development focuses on how things should be done in the future.

OK, now hands up who still wants their leaders trained rather than developed?

I believe this is one of the reasons for the monumental failure of leadership programmes across the globe. McKinsey estimates the annual spend on leadership programmes in the US to be in the region of $14 billion. Other researchers put the figure much higher. Regardless of the actual figure, the quality of leadership we see in the workplace doesn’t look like anyone got value for their money.

Myatt therefore makes an excellent point – we need to stop equipping leaders to deal with what’s already happened and start equipping them for what’s still to come. Put that way, it seems blindingly obvious, yet this is probably one of the contributing factors to the massive failure of leadership around the globe.

While certain aspects of management and leadership can be taught in short, one-day programmes, learning to be a leader will take a bit longer.

How long does it take to learn to swim? How long does it take to learn to dance? How long does it take to learn to play the piano? You don’t learn these skills in a day. What makes us think people can learn to be a leader in a day?

Reading a book and watching a video will certainly help, but, in the same way that you learn to swim by swimming and not be reading a book, you learn to lead by leading – and being taught along the way.

Why not ditch training your leaders and opt for developing them instead? That may just be the answer your leaders have been looking for!

HR Future
HR Future is South Africa's only independent, most forward thinking human resource magazine with the richest content wealth of HR related issues on the continent of Africa to help executives recruit, manage, train, reward and retain the best talent. Visit our InfoCentre or website.

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