The Truth About Leadership Training

The problem with most leadership training is that we think we can actually “train” someone to be a leader. Training is about skill development. You can “train” someone to cut grass, fix a carburetor, or make a latte at Starbucks. But, leadership? Can you actually “train” someone to be a leader?

The problem behind leadership training is the assumption that leadership is merely a set of prescribed skills that can be taught.

Our work around leadership development builds on a simple premise: leadership cannot be reduced so skills or techniques; leadership comes from the identity and integrity of the leader. You can learn a bunch of tools as a leader, which most leadership training programs offer. But what we’re interested in is the tool user – the person below the surface of the tools and the skills. Who you are as a leader will always speak louder that any tool or technique or skill you learn in a leadership training program.

Our research, with thousands of employees in hundreds of organizations, indicates that what people are looking for in their leaders today is realness. Good leadership, first and foremost, is about being a real human being. Then, from that realness earns you the credibility to influence. Leadership is about presence, not position. Your very presence becomes an attraction when you seek substance, depth, and character.  In an age where you must attract, rather than control or coerce, you must be a person who is attractive. You earn the ability to attract by understanding and developing yourself. Leadership development is more about personal development than it is about leadership development. To diminish this commitment to ongoing, life-long self-awareness and development to a simple “training program” is like thinking of the human body as simply a machine.

Does leadership training have a place? Of course, as long as you don’t think that leadership can be percolated down to set of skills that can be taught. You can learn some very useful skills and tools for reaching people, impacting others, and acquiring an ability to influence others. But it must be combined with the development of being more fully human – being real as a person. The best leaders we know are good people. And you can’t learn to be a good person in a training program. Being a good person requires a commitment to spending your life learning about yourself, serving others, and cultivating strong character. Leadership is ultimately about development, not training.