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Training Does NOT Magically Make Leaders

You may have a healthy training budget for leadership development but you are wasting it. Believe me I have been there. I used to manage a colossal annual training budget and what did I achieve? NOTHING.

My leaders would fly all over the world, have a great experience, come back to their job, and very little would change. It was seen as a perk by the participant and a box ticking exercise by the business, because that’s what all of the competition does. After the initial excitement, the new skill that was learned would be set aside to focus on the day to day technical aspects of the job. Often leaving the senior executives frustrated that the leader is not demonstrating any new capability, and the recipient expecting a pay rise and or promotion simply because they attended the training.

And don’t get my started on the cost of flying “overseas experts” in to wave their magic training wand, that’s a whole other blog right there.

There is a stark difference between learning a new skill and becoming capable with that new skill, and here is where EVERYONE drops the ball. To become a capable leader, you have to bravely go out into the world and test your new skill. You are going to make mistakes and it wont feel natural, so unless someone is supporting you with this, you will stop dead in your tracks at the first hurdle, or won’t even try. There are actually five levels to consider when you put your strategy and budget together for leadership development:


This is where most businesses start and stop. They identify a fabulous executive training centre or MBA certificate programme in leadership and boom. Off you go. Or they decide they want to turn all of their leaders into coaches. Attend some training , and we will magically turn all of our leaders into coaches right? All traditional training sits at this level.


Wait a minute, I need a plan? Duh – yes. Each leader is unique and will have a unique set of strengths and gaps. It takes courage for the senior team to have these conversations with their leaders. To share their observations of where they think they excel and where they can improve, and it hardly ever happens. So without a plan, the leader attends the training blind, does not set any goals or track outcomes, and has no clue what to do with the new skills once they return. ESPECIALLY if you are expecting them to shift from their technical role of accountant, designer, property manager etc to that of a coach who develops their people.


This can take as long as 6 months and this is where the leader needs access to a mentor or a coach. Lets take the leadership skill of “negotiating and influencing” as a specific example. Whether this is with your clients or internal teams, it takes practice. The leader will need feedback and lots of opportunity to test different strategies. This is actually where you will see your return on investment – the training is paying off because you are seeing a change in behaviour, not only for the leader but the impact she has on clients and employees, and the bottom line.


You now have the capability within your business to train, coach, mentor and develop others. That leader can pass on their experience, skills and feedback to the next generation of leaders. You start to build scale in the skills and performance. You are building more influencers and negotiators and you are using your own experts to deliver, not paying exorbitant consulting fees, who, when they finish the training, take the knowledge with them!


May sound like nirvana – especially as most businesses don’t make it past the first level. But it exists. This is where you become famous for a specific leadership talent. So famous that the other offices around the world want your people flying over to train their teams.

So next time you look at your budget and set out your strategy for leadership development, make sure you are looking to invest in at least the first three levels, that is where you will see real change, where you will achieve a bigger shift in your culture, while positively impacting performance, productivity and the bottom line.

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