Most Leadership Training is BS

It’s time for my Friday thoughts on leadership. See if you relate to this.

You got shipped off to some type of leadership training. Maybe it was for work. Maybe for church. Maybe for another type of organization.

You attended the training. It was long. The coffee was less than satisfactory. The pastries were stale. The leader was pumped up on something that made him or her optimistic to the point of causing gagging. You recorded a bunch of cute sayings from old leaders in your conference notebook. The talks seemed like they belonged in some sort of old-fashioned tent revival meeting.

I have been to so many of these that I’m lucky to be able to lead a kid to a candy store!

So the article title on the email newsletter caught my eye. Why Leadership Training Is So Much BS. It is in a manufacturing trade journal called Industry Week written by an acquaintance, Steve Minton. He interviewed Jeffrey Pfeffer author of Leadership B.S.: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time (Harper Business, September 2015).

“But a steady diet of inspiration fables, Pfeffer warns, also misleads and does little to improve organizations.” He contrasts the state of leadership training with medical education, which strives to base its teaching on carefully measured studies and their results.

“No wonder medical science has made significant strides in treating many diseases while leadership as it is practiced daily all over the world has continued to produce a lot of disengaged, dissatisfied, and disaffected employees,” he writes.

What can businesses do to improve their leadership development efforts? Pfeffer told IndustryWeek that companies first need to change their evaluation criteria. Too much development work either is not evaluated or evaluated on the basis of enjoyment of the course.

“What are we trying to accomplish in leadership development? If we are trying to attain higher levels of employee engagement, higher levels of trust in leaders, higher levels of job satisfaction, lower levels of turnover, more people succeeding and having more people ready for leadership positions, then those are criteria you ought to use to evaluate your efforts,” he stresses, “not whether or not people had a good time, whether or not they liked the donuts, whether or not they thought the speaker was inspiring.”

Companies must also have people teaching these programs who have at least some expertise in leadership, he adds.

I continue to see people go off to leadership training only to memorize stories and tips. Putting the knowledge into practice is left to chance.

Better leadership training is done in smaller groups over time. This allows time for trial and error and feedback.

Think Yoda teaching the young Jedi Luke Skywalker.

Find your Yoda. Or, find your Luke. Me, I’m looking for another Luke to bring along.

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