Why Your Leadership Skills Training Isn’t Working

By Chris Elliot

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

Picture yourself in the latest leadership skills training event you attended. It was likely a mid-week event because most effective development professionals understand that Friday means you’re going to leave early.

A prerequisite for the event was that no cell phones or notebooks could be brought with you.

You sat for half a day or maybe a whole day learning concepts on leadership and why each concept is important. You learned about sample ways to implement the tactics within your current role. You likely received some sort of manual to take home or back to your office as reference material.

The manual is tactfully filled with inspiring images and is well organized for easy use. The training team even offers an online version for you to access through your smartphone at any time, from any location.

Anyone You Know?

You came to the event inspired by your current leader who assured you that you were a rising star in the organization. With just a few more training events and maybe a certificate or two, you’ll be next in line for a big promotion.

You are also excited about the opportunity to teach these lessons to those you lead. You truly understand the importance of developing others.

Six weeks later, you are given a survey on how you are using the processes, and you sheepishly admit that you haven’t looked at the manual since. Does this resemble anyone you know?

You had the desire and incentive to learn. Distractions were kept to a minimum. The trainers were skilled with high-quality, highly reputable products.

So why didn’t the training work?

The ‘Same’ Principle

After your training session, you got back into your same car and drove home to your same house to greet your same family. You had the same meal for supper, watched your same favorite shows, and went to bed at roughly the same time.

You woke up the next morning at the same time and drove the same car down the same route to the same office. You parked in about the same parking spot and walked through the same office doors.

Once in the building, you hung your coat on the same hook and went to the same machine to get your same coffee to have the same conversation just before heading to your same office with the same chair to turn on the same computer and do the same work.

Let’s admit it, we all live a good portion of Groundhog’s Day in our lives. Déjà vu is not nearly as surprising as, “I never saw that before.”

Somewhere in this Groundhog’s Day set of events, you are supposed to remember that you have a whole set of new tools and techniques to use to make you better. The problem is you are so grounded in the day-to-day and filled with distractions that you can’t take the time to properly ingrain new habits.

This seems like a lengthy problem, but in reality, most change leaders have understood this and added many techniques, including reinforcement, to the curriculum to reduce this effect.

Here are some methods for making your training more effective:

The Five E’s of Leadership Skills

As you go through any new learning event, identify the main areas you want to change in your life.

Use the Five E’s to fully absorb the material:

  1. Exposure – to learn anything new, we first have to know about it: read, listen or watch to become aware of the new idea.
  2. Exploration – often, our first reaction to something new is resistance. Push past this and ask yourself, “What if this is really true? What would it mean to me?”
  3. Expression – if there is a story behind the concept, put yourself in the place of the main character. How did that person feel? What did that person do?
  4. Experience – not put yourself in the main character’s place as you. Where have you experienced this or something similar in your life? How did you react? What was beneficial about how you handled it? What hindered you?
  5. Extension – think about how you would use the new technique in this situation next time. What will you do differently in this situation next time? What are your goals for the next time? How will you change your reaction to meet your goals next time?

7 Steps to Change

To help bring the new concepts into your organization more effectively, use these ideas:

Hire someone with change leadership experience and techniques that are proven to be successful.  Let them develop the initial curriculum and identify a few internal colleagues to shadow the process.  Then set these colleagues up in a planned transition that includes the following steps:

  1. Watch me build – let the trainees be part of the audience for the initial session of the Change Leader.
  2. Build curriculum with me – collaborate your team with the trainer to tailor the curriculum to your organizational needs.
  3. Teach with me – co-facilitate a training session with the Change Leader.
  4. Let me watch you – go solo and train a class while the Change Leader watches and provides feedback.
  5. Take over, but contact me regularly – your team is now in charge of training, but have the Change Leader on speed dial for advice and support.
  6. Teach others – become the Change Leader and begin developing others in your organization by going back to step 1 with you as the Change Leader.
  7. It’s all yours!

Erasing the Blackboard

The above are great techniques to make training effective individually and within an organization, provided you have understood the training needs and effectively aligned them to the organizational goals.  However, there is still a major obstacle most of us have to overcome before we can fully absorb and adopt any training.

That major obstacle is what I call the blackboard of our past, and it needs erasing in many areas in order to become authentic and set ourselves up for learning.

In part two of this series, I will explain what the blackboard means, why it stops us and how to start erasing it.

How Do You Improve Your Leadership Skills Training?

If you have ideas about leadership skills training that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Would you like to contribute a post?

Chris Elliot
Chris Elliot
Chris is a practicing Servant Leader with more than 20 years experience helping organizations implement change. In his new book Thought Shredder, he outlines the process that helped him become an authentic leader.
  • Ken Coppens says:

    Nicely done Chris! As you know, we have our own Leadership Fundamentals curriculum and one of the challenges is maintaining the energy and drive to learn new habits following the classroom experience. Something we have implemented are what we call “Peer Coaching Sessions”. Graduates of the class convene about every six weeks in a “lunch-n-learn” format to review one specific topic from class and discuss successes and growth opportunities. It started slow but has really gained momentum as people get reenergized and recommitted. Anxious to see what you write about the blackboard. We talk about “clearing the whiteboard” in our minds when we get into teaching deep listening skills. Keep the faith!

  • F. E. Starks says:

    Where is the ‘like’ button! The 5 E’s really helps the leader define what they will do with information received during the learning process. Committing to the extension step will allow the leader to reap the benefits of attending developmental sessions. Thanks for sharing!

  • Kathleen Listman says:

    First E for learning a concept is that it is “Essential to solve current problem.” People are willing to learn to change if it necessary.

  • Cynthia Rogers says:

    Excellent article! Well said! I start every Leadership (as a matter of fact, every class) with the statement “This is not a class in XXXX, this is a class about change. How will you change what you are doing now to be a better XXXX”. Can’t wait to read part 2.
    Thanks for the insight!

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