3 reasons intensive training programs fail to develop effective leaders

I was inspired to write this post while watching a telecast of the 2016 Rio Olympic games. With a motto of “faster, higher, stronger” the Olympic movement is all about pushing people to their limits to see how well they can perform, thus separating the top .01% from the rest. At one level I admire that goal but at another level I am concerned that some organisations are using one of these principles to develop new leaders. My issue is with the word “faster”. In my opinion faster isn’t always better and I want to explain why.

When we farm crops on a large scale, with the goal of quickly and efficiently producing food at the lowest possible cost it is described as intensive farming. The aim is to maximise the yield from the land using pesticides and chemical fertilisers. However, there are drawbacks to this approach in the long term. Some of them include soil degradation, chemical run off and the eradication of insects or microbes that aid soil health.  In other words, intensive farming gives you short term gains but creates long term issues.

I believe the same is true when we attempt to develop new leaders using intensive development programs. You know the type of program, one where you lock people in a room for 5 days cramming their heads full of everything they need to know. In the short term it seems like a good idea, as it is cost effective and efficient. However, it is not good for people in the long term and here are three reasons why:

Information overload You wouldn’t give a plant all the water it needs for a year at once, so why do we think it’s a good idea to fill the heads of new leaders with so much information at once? It is not possible to retain all those ideas and it certainly isn’t the best way to ensure they fully understand important concepts. Think of it as like trying to drink from a fire hose! Short term they walk away thinking they have learnt a lot but long term they are unable to use the knowledge as their head is too full to access it.

One size fits all approach These programs have to be a one size fits all in order to maintain their efficiency. There is no time for adjusting the content to suit the needs of different people whether it be in terms of learning styles, job role requirements or cultural nuances. It’s like giving a cactus and a fern the same amount of water and wondering why they both fail to grow.

Artificial environment A training room is not a natural environment. It can’t possibly reflect the multitude of factors that a leader has to deal with in performing their role. No matter how had you try it is not possible to overcome the artificial atmosphere. Just like plants grown in a greenhouse will struggle when moved outdoors, new leaders will find the going tough to implement their learning when they return to their work environment.


For these reasons, and others, it is my experience that intensive development programs do not create the best leaders. What does work is coaching. It could be coaching on its own or coaching combined with classroom based learning. This way, new leaders have an opportunity to try out new ideas and be supported in bringing theory to life. That is why I have moved my business away from workshops and now focus on coaching, whether it’s for individuals or leadership teams.


If you want to learn more about the benefits of coaching then download my free article “Stop training your frontline leaders and start coaching them” by clicking here.


Karen Schmidt from Let’s Grow! is the frontline leadership expert.

She helps organisations grow their frontline leaders so they perform better, which improves team productivity, giving senior leaders peace of mind.

To learn about her services visit www.letsgrow.com.au. To book her to speak at your next event visit www.karenschmidt.com.au

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