Why Leadership Training Fails So Much (How We Do It Wrong)

Why Leadership Training Fails - How We Do It Wrong.

Despite the billions of dollars spent every year on leadership training for employees, our businesses, nonprofits, school systems, and governments are still full of ineffective leaders.

Why does this happen? Why is leadership training not working?

In this article, we will discuss multiple reasons why leadership training fails and the ways we do it wrong.

There is no “why” for the training (or the need is not felt)

People need to understand why they are doing what they are doing. What is the reason? What is the purpose?

If they don’t see the need for it or if they (unfortunately) think things are good as they are, they are not likely enthusiastic or care about the training. And, afterward, they are not likely to implement them.

It’s not modeled from the top

“Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work for parents or leaders.

If you are training and expecting certain behaviors from your middle or lower leaders, you need to model the behavior from the top. If you don’t, don’t expect others to do it as well.

It’s not a priority

If the training and/or the implementation of it is not a priority for the organization (or the individual), it’s likely to fall to the wayside. If it is important, it needs to be made a priority and reinforced by the culture and environment of the organization.

There is a lack of resources, ability, or permission to act on it

Why Leadership Training Fails - There is a lack of resources ability or permission to act on it

Another reason why leadership training fails is that, if leaders do not have the permission, resources, or ability to act on what they are trained in, they can’t make it happen.

If top leadership wants it to happen, they need to provide the resources and create an environment that reinforces and encourages the change.

The environment, cultures, or policies don’t promote the new behavior

If leaders don’t feel safe, they aren’t going to push the change or take a risk – they will play it safe.

If the culture doesn’t promote or reinforce the behaviors taught in the leadership training, the behavior will not stick. If the culture doesn’t reward the behaviors, people will do what they are rewarded for, not what lip service is given for.

Also Read: 21 Leadership Behaviors Effective Leaders Do

There are no (or few) supports there to help leaders implement

If leadership training happens but nothing is done to help, support, and encourage what is taught in training, then what is taught will likely fall by the wayside.

The right people are not trained

This can happen in different ways, but one that happens is this: the lower leaders are trained and the upper leaders are not.

There are times when this makes sense, but what sometimes happens is that top leadership says this training is important, but then they don’t participate themselves. They want their leaders to communicate better, but they don’t model it by working to communicate better themselves, for example.

Sometimes they are the ones who actually need the training, but they think they are above it or don’t need it. So the lower leaders learn it, but it’s not reinforced or modeled as it should be.

Other ways this happens is when training goes only to upper levels, certain people, or based on seniority and other leaders (or potential leaders) are left out.

The training is one and done (there’s no follow-up)

Why Leadership Training Fails - The training is one and done (there’s no follow-up)

Learning best happens over a period of time through repetition and reinforcement.

Many leadership trainings are one-and-done. You watch online training courses or Youtube videos, you learn the information, often in one day, and that’s it. Then it’s back to the everyday work. There’s no change, no reinforcement, no reteaching or reminders.

It’s just “another training”

Sometimes employees and leaders are given training after training. Some are for legal reasons, others are off the whims of whoever is deciding. If it’s just thrown at the leaders and it’s seen as just “another training”, not much learning or change will happen from it.

The training is low quality or only teaches surface-level material

Another reason why leadership training fails is that the training is of low quality. The content is poor and lacking, and you can’t get much from it.

It also may just be surface level – the basics of what you can do from a simple Google search. And, with surface-level material, there can easily be misconceptions and errors.

The training is boring or taught poorly

Another reason it fails is because it’s boring. If it’s draining or puts your leaders to sleep and doesn’t engage them, it’s probably not going to be very effective.

Sometimes it’s just taught poorly, too. It may be good material, but if it’s not explained well, your leaders may not “get it”.

It teaches one to focus on one’s “leadership style”

Why Leadership Training Fails - It teaches to focus on one’s leadership style

Speaking of misconceptions or surface-level teaching, if the gist of the teaching is to discover one’s leadership style and focus on that, that training is not going to do well.

Leadership is not about one’s style, it’s about principles. There are certain principles of leadership that you need to follow no matter what one’s “style” is. And really, what is often seen as styles now are just different functions that every leader should be doing. Just because you may “lean” one way doesn’t mean you need to focus on that.

In another context, every leader has their own style, we all have our own personalities, but what matters is our principles, not the “style” we use.

Also Read: Leadership Styles: 13 Principles They Teach Us About Leadership

The training is not actionable

Knowledge is great, but if there is nothing actionable in what is taught, it’s not going to do much to bring behavioral change. If all the training does is teach theories and whatnot and doesn’t provide insights into principles and action steps to take, it’s likely to fail.

There is a limited view of what training is

Sometimes there is a limited view of what training is. When one thinks of leadership, one thinks of a classroom setting or an online HR course. Training can be so much more.

From books to in-house training to online courses to reference materials to daily/weekly emails/videos to mentorship – there are lots of ways to train – and lots of ways to reinforce that training.

It’s about fulfilling requirements, not learning

Especially if they have a lot of leadership training, it can easily become about fulfilling requirements instead of learning. If that’s the case, you need to fix the mentality first before providing the training. Otherwise, the leadership training is likely to fail.

Growth and training are not seen as a priority

If leadership training and development and implementation of it is not a priority, in our busy world, it’s likely to get pushed to the side. If it’s made a priority, it’ll be put off later, and that later will likely not happen. Oftentimes, this becomes the reason why leadership fails.

The “training” isn’t really training

For example, if the training is following someone around, and that person doesn’t really teach or train them if there’s no set checklist or content that the person is supposed to learn from that person, then that “training” is likely to fail.

Modeling and following are great, but they need a set system (that of course can be flexible and change) that the person should be taught – each time.

Too often, people are sent with someone else and we call that our training and it ends up failing not only the person but the organization as well. Or if you just give them a stack of manuals and leadership books and say “Read this” with no follow-up or on-the-job reinforcement and help, then that’s likely to fail as well.

The training is too generic

Now, some training can be universal. The principles of leadership apply to every leader.

However, in some cases, what you need may be more than any generic training. You may need to find a training that is more specific that meets your need. If all you do is generic training that’s one-size-fits-all for any situation, then that training is likely to fail.

There’s a lack of motivation or desire from the leader (wrong mindset)

Why Leadership Training Fails - There’s a lack of motivation or desire from the leader (wrong mindset)

This encompasses some of what we mentioned before.

      • If the leader isn’t motivated, doesn’t see why leadership training is important, or has the wrong priorities – then the training won’t be as effective as it could be.
      • If the leaders have the wrong mindset about the training (or their work or leadership in general), the training is likely to fail (unless you focus on the mindset issue first).
      • If they have a fixed mindset, they likely won’t try hard to learn.

You have the wrong people in leadership positions

One reason we have such a leadership problem is that the wrong people are in leadership positions. Too often people are promoted for the wrong reasons, and we end up with toxic leaders “leading” the fray.

"Everyone can be a leader, but not everyone should or wants to be." ~ Simon Sinek Click To Tweet

If you have the wrong people in the seats, if you have toxic leaders who are unwilling and don’t want to grow, if you have people who are just about themselves, it doesn’t really matter what kind of leadership training you have – it’s probably going to fail.

Not enough time is given to see the change

Change can take time and may have hiccups and mistakes.

One reason it may seem that the leadership training failed is that you didn’t give it enough time. If you are reinforcing it, making it a priority, and you have people working hard toward the change, make sure to give it enough time and not be too hard on the mistakes and hiccups.

Also, if you aren’t measuring well the change you are wanting to see, if you are not specific, it’s hard to really know if it is working or not.  

The leader lacks other needed skills

Sometimes leadership training fails because the leader learned and is trying to implement what he or she learned, but other skills are hindering them.

You may need to look closely and see if it’s not that the training failed, but that the leader just needs a little training in something else.

Training doesn’t (or maybe can’t) deal with the underlying issues

Sometimes, there are underlying issues for the problems the company is facing. It could be toxic leadership, a poor (or terrible) culture that lacks trust, or senior leadership that puts numbers above all else.

Training can help teach you how to fix those problems, but training can’t fix those problems for you, and if you have problems similar to the above, it doesn’t matter what training you have, you are going to have an ineffective company.

Why Leadership Training Fails – The Conclusion

Why does leadership training fail? Often, it has to do with the organization’s culture, the type and quality of training, and the priority it is given.

Do you recognize any of the reasons why it may have failed in your organization? What are you going to do about it?

Are there other reasons we missed? please let me know in the comments below.

If you find this article helpful, we would be honored if you share it with your friends. You can find more leadership articles here.

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