Why Leadership Training Fails

Leadership training programs and curriculums have been shown to be ineffective for a few reasons. First, programs fail to provide relevant and useful process to implement values and principles in your context. In his article, “Why Leadership Training Fails—and What to Do About It”, consultant, researcher, and professor at Harvard Business School, Michael Beer, discusses his findings on how leadership development can often be very inspiring, but years later, managers reflect on the experience and believe that little has changed as a result of the training. Sound familiar to you? People in these programs share that they struggle to put the principles they are taught in the curriculum into practice.

Secondly, programs don’t go beyond inspiration and help align your team’s processes and systems to its purpose. Beer recommends attending “to organizational design and managerial processes first”, and then supporting them with “individual development tools, such as coaching and classroom or online education”. So, before we can implement a program, we need to address our system. What is the system? The roles, responsibilities, and nature of the relationships of all members in an organization. Beer’s research shows that “the individuals had less power to change the system surrounding them than that system had to shape them”. Therefore, we don’t need more motivational speeches or team-building activities, we need a better leadership system.

Lastly, programs don’t benefit and support the growth of all members within the system. In a sporting context, these members include the head coach, assistant coaches, players, administrators, and parents. Everyone should have an opportunity to learn and grow from this curriculum to reshape the system.

The Four Keys to Develop Leadership

In her article for the Harvard Business Review, “Why Leadership Development Isn’t Developing Leaders”, researcher, author, and consultant, Deborah Rowland, shares her research on why some current leadership development is the opposite of what is needed. To paraphrase, she believes that many current leadership programs have a set curriculum, and a rational, classroom-based approach. The students are taken out of their context (e.g., work environment), and they become inspired, engage in activities, and are taught the latest leadership principals.

Deborah Rowland offers some solutions: “Study after study, including my own, tells us the qualities that leaders in today’s world need are intuitive, dynamic, collaborative, and grounded in here-and-now emotional intelligence.”

She makes four suggestions for leadership development:

1. Make it experiential. She calls this a “living laboratory”. Scrap planned lessons, lectures, and exercises and replace them with “self-directed experiences” in the very context people work and lead in.

2. Provide a transformation of being, not doing. Her suggestions align with the philosophy of former New England Patriots’ Character Coach and current VP of the Houston Texans, Jack Easterby. In Episode 36 of “Coaching Culture, Jack shares the importance of developing emotional intelligence—especially in today’s culture. Before people can lead outward, they must regulate their emotional and mental states. Developing self-awareness and self-management is critical, and Deborah stresses the importance of mindfulness practices, such as walking, sitting, and having peer and partner discussions to “cultivate the vital skills of purpose, self-awareness, empathy, and acute attentional discipline”.

3. Develop the system—not just the individual. Rather than teaching principles of leadership, your team needs a leadership system that provides routine experiences, and a more decentralized command within your program. You need a systematic approach to develop a player-led program.

4. Coaches should act less like “experts” and more like “Sherpas”. Whether they are a designated leadership coach, or any coach in the program, they should act more like guides, helping individuals realize their personal and team goals. As Jack Easterby suggests in Episode 35 of “Coaching Culture”, “Accountability is just accounting for someone’s ability.”  He sees his role as “walking the road and making mistakes with people”, and, to do that, you must “individualize growth”.

My biggest problem when developing leaders was that I tried teaching certain leadership principles, but my team did not operate according to those principles. “Do as I say, not as I do” was to often my mantra. To be effective at these strategies, we need to remember that leadership development starts with ourselves, and thus we need to invest in our own leadership.


The Captain’s Council Leadership System Training Course

Implementing and effectively running the Captain’s Council within your team is a powerful way to not only develop leaders, but to increase the chances everyone in your program feels seen, known, and cared for.

The training will help you to with the following process:

Selecting Captains

Empowering Captains

System Execution

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