Blog Post

What Leadership Training Isn't

Teala Wilson

I have argued before that leadership training should be offered to everyone in a company (not just managers or managers-in-waiting). It sounds like a good idea, but what are my bright ideas for training courses or plans? There's no right answer, and I found it easier to describe what good leadership training ISN'T.

1. Leadership Training isn't a Three-credit Hour College Course

I am always amused at schools that require taking a class in leadership in order to graduate. As if leadership can be taught in a classroom!

(Aside: what's worse is the "ethics" class requirement. If someone has no integrity they're not going to learn it in a required college course!)

Leadership training is not a one-time thing. In fact, the main reason for "failed" leadership training is that the training wasn't reinforced. One way leaders improve is by getting feedback on their choices and behaviors from others. There must be a support structure at all levels in your organization that provides this if you want to produce leaders.

Think of leadership as a journey, not a destination. Even the greatest leaders will admit they're still learning and growing as leaders. It should come as no surprise that humble leaders make the best leaders.

2. Leadership is Not a Formula that Can be Learned or Memorized

Perhaps the term leadership training is misleading since, as one writer has argued, the word training "presumes the need, processes, and techniques...[and] is often a rote, one directional, one dimensional, one size fits all, authoritarian process."

The truth is, for many leadership challenges, there are no right or wrong answers. There may not even be "best" answers.

How do you keep your team motivated when one of the most popular team members has been let go?

How do you handle a top performer who has legal issues?

When do you decide to fire someone that isn't cutting it?

How do you bring two tightly knit teams together toward one goal?

How do you comfort family members whose loved one has to go into harm's way?

The potential challenges a leader will face are endless, are often unable to be predicted, and sometimes must be addressed immediately. There will never be a template or formula a leader can strictly adhere to when facing these challenges.

3. Leadership Training is Not Management Training

As I've said ad nauseum, leaders and managers are completely different roles. They are often confused because many times one person embodies both roles. An entire book can be written on the differences between a leader and a manager, but Warren Bennis sums up the difference perfectly in Learning to Lead: "A good manager does things right. A leader does the right things."

Management training has an important role in any organization. But it should not be confused with leadership training. For example, here is a list of some of training options listed on a website offering management training:

Time Management Training

Cultural Awareness Training

Helpdesk Training

Project Management Training

Finance Training

While this curriculum sounds absolutely thrilling, and will surely make your managers better managers, none of it has anything to do with leadership!

4. Leadership Cannot be Taught Without Experience

In other words, leadership training should be experiential training. Simply put, you must practice leadership in order to get better at it. Leadership is a "full contact sport." Like football, or soccer, or basketball, you only get better by going through reps, practicing, playing, and facing real-world situations. No one is going to truly learn football, or soccer, or basketball by studying the playbook. The same goes for leadership.

In reality, training is just a precursor to learning. As one author puts it "the more realistic a training environment is (i.e. where an actual failure is a real option) the more likely the student will be able to apply the training." It's easy to sit in a classroom and talk about what a 3rd party should do in a given situation. It's quite another thing to face the exact same situation in real life.

Ok, those are some things that leadership ISN'T. So what IS leadership training? Here are some training tips for leaders:


Give people responsibility. Put them in situations where they're leading. Yes, they will fail. That's ok because they will learn that lesson permanently (and not just for a test)


People must get constant feedback. This can be from peers, subordinates, bosses, mentors, or even themselves. Leaders get better by constantly reflecting on what went wrong, what went right, and what they can do better.


A leader is constantly striving to get better. Incredibly effective leaders are the ones most likely working to improve their leadership skills. They became effective for a reason.

Mentoring and coaching

Leadership skills will develop faster if nurtured by a mentor or coach

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Taking A Company-Wide Approach to Learning & Development

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Taking A Company-Wide Approach to Learning & Development

There’s a lot of coordination that goes into a company’s learning and development programming, from identifying skills gaps and creating engaging content to scaling initiatives company-wide. And because there’s so much complex planning involved, organizations can sometimes get caught up in the details, and overlook how L&D fits into broader organizational goals. A recent survey—titled "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change"—from Cornerstone People Research Lab (CPRL) and the Human Capital Institute (HCI) found that only 55% of organizations believe their L&D programs are well-aligned with their company’s overarching strategy. But CPRL and HCI’s survey reveals two logical ways to overcome this challenge. First, there’s a need for L&D executives to participate in strategic conversations around organizational goals to ensure that L&D planning aligns with broader business plans. And second, it’s important to share responsibility for learning effectiveness. If facilitating continuous learning is a part of everyone’s role, it becomes easier to integrate it organization-wide. Promote Cross-Departmental Collaboration and Responsibility To better align L&D efforts with overarching business goals, learning executives have to participate in strategic conversations about organizational direction. For instance, when business leaders gather to discuss goals and KPIs for the coming year or quarter, HR and L&D leaders should be involved in those conversations. And the opposite is also true: Business leaders need to help direct the learning outcomes framed against those goals. According to the "Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey from CPRL and HCI, only about half (51%) of learning leaders report being involved in these discussions. During these business planning discussions, it’s important to establish accountability, especially among people managers. CPRL and HCI found 67% of people managers report being involved in the creation of content, but only 47% are involved in the accountability for the results. By holding more people accountable to the success of L&D programs, it can be easier for a company to spot pitfalls or opportunities for improvement. It creates shared goals for measuring effectiveness, and establishes a process for making changes. For example, by getting people managers involved in L&D initiatives, L&D leaders can work with them to get a better understanding of a specific team’s skill gaps or what reskilling or new skilling solutions will work best for them. All leaders in an organization, in fact, should be eager to participate and own their team’s newskilling, reskilling or upskilling efforts. Ask a people manager in the IT department to reiterate the importance of learning to their team, and track the amount of time their employees spend on learning content. This approach will not only create a shared commitment to continuous learning, but can also help leaders outside of L&D and HR get a better idea of what content or formats work best for their teams and recommend adjustments accordingly. Continuous Learning Is Everyone’s Responsibility Aligning overarching business plans and strategy with learning and development efforts can improve each’s efficacy. The more cross-departmental collaboration that exists, the more information that HR and L&D leaders have about their workforce and its needs, strengths and weaknesses. And with more accountability, all stakeholders in an organization can become more involved in ensuring the successful partnership between L&D and a company’s overall strategy. To learn more about the findings from Cornerstone’s "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey and its recommendations for using cross-departmental collaboration and accountability to help with L&D efforts, click here to download and read the full report.

Why supporting neurodiversity is essential for any successful workforce today

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Why supporting neurodiversity is essential for any successful workforce today

When we think of diversity in the workforce, we typically think of it along the lines of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. But focusing only on those four is its own sort of constraint. To truly create a successful and diverse workplace, you need to ensure you're also embracing neurodiversity too. Understanding neurodiversity In the late 1990s, a single mother in Australia named Judy Singer began studying Disability Studies at University of Technology Sydney. Her daughter had recently been diagnosed with what was then known as “Asperger’s Syndrome,” a form of autism spectrum disorder. As she read more and more about autism as part of her studies, Singer also suspected that her mother, and she herself, may have had some form of autism spectrum disorder. Singer describes crying as she realized that her mother, with whom she'd had a tumultuous relationship throughout her childhood, wasn’t purposefully cold or neurotic as she had thought. She just had a different kind of mind. In her honors thesis, Singer coined the term “neurodiversity.” For Singer, people with neurological differences like autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or dyslexia were a social class of their own and should be treated as such. If we are going to embrace diversity of race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc., then we must embrace a diversity of the mind. The following video is an excerpt from the "Neurodiversity" Grovo program, which is available in the Cornerstone Content Anytime Professional Skills subscription. Neurodiversity in today's workplace Recently, neurodiversity has become a trendy term in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging spaces. And many organizations are working to hire more neurodivergent people, as well as give them opportunities to thrive at work. That’s why, at Cornerstone, we recently produced a series of lessons on neurodiversity. If your organization hasn’t prioritized neurodiverse inclusion yet, here are some reasons why it both supports your people and organization. 1) Neurodivergent people are underemployed Neurodivergent people, especially people with autism, are widely under-employed, regardless of their competence. In the United States, 85% of college graduates with autism are unemployed. According to a 2006 study, individuals with ADHD have higher rates of unemployment than individuals without. However, there is no evidence that neurodivergent people are less competent or less intelligent than neurotypical people. Organizations are missing out on talented people. 2) Neurodivergent people are more common than you may think Neurodiversity manifests in many different ways. It can encompass autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourette syndrome, and many other conditions. And as scientists have learned more about what makes someone neurodivergent, they're identifying more and more people. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 160 children have some form of autism spectrum disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in every 162 children have Tourette Syndrome, and roughly 8 percent of children under 18 have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. And that's just children. How many adults, like Judy Singer's mother, have struggled their whole lives without a diagnosis? People who are neurodivergent are everywhere. Diverse organizations are stronger Diverse organizations and teams not only have better financial returns than less-diverse ones, but they also perform better. Having the different perspectives presented by people who are neurodivergent can help your team solve more difficult problems. Different perspectives and different ways of thinking lead to creativity and innovation.

Why Selecting a Leadership Development Program Is Way Too Complicated

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Why Selecting a Leadership Development Program Is Way Too Complicated

Many organizations face a leadership gap and cannot find the talent needed to grow. We could blame the retiring baby boomer phenomenon, the free agent nation, or the lack of investment made in developing leaders. But since blame is a lazy man’s wage, I will not entertain that debate because there are too many options out there for developing leaders. There are many leadership development programs in the market. In minutes, with a simple Internet search or over coffee with your head of human resources, you can discover myriad high-quality leadership development programs that you could use in your organization to develop leaders. The problem is not finding a good program, but in choosing one. Answer the Right Questions So how does one choose? The problem we face in evaluating leadership development programs is that we get caught up in evaluating the content rather than asking a simple question, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Each organization is unique in how it answers this question. And that is where the secret lies. If an organization can select a program that matches the answer to the question above, the selected program will likely be the right one. After all, each leadership development program is very good in some way. It is not so important which one you select. It is important that you use the one you select. In other words, the key is to not let it become another un-opened binder on the bookshelves of your management team. Be An Effective Leader Let me give you an example: If an organization’s answer to the question above is, "We want our leaders to be proactive and focused on the things that drive results," your choices are narrowed down to only a few programs that would deliver on that answer. And if I had to pick one program that would deliver on that answer, without hesitation, I would choose, "The Effective Executive" by Peter F. Drucker. It is a classic, and all five of the behaviors of effective executives taught in the book remain vital skills that any leader should practice if he or she wants to be effective in his or her organization. In the book, Drucker teaches that effective executives: Know where their time goes Focus on contribution and results Build on strengths Concentrate on first things first Make effective decisions This is not a book review or a plug for "The Effective Executive," though I do believe if you had to choose one set of skills to teach your leadership, it would be the five from Drucker’s book. This is a challenge for every organization to simplify the selection of leadership development programs, and ask, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Answering this question clearly will help you choose the right program. After all, many programs are excellent. The secret to success is not in which program you choose, but that you get people to apply the program you choose. Photo: Can Stock

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