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Director level development – help!


I have several high level directors who are in their positions due to age and experience. None of them have ever been trained or attended courses in managing people, teams etc. I recently found a Management Masterclass with a well known training company that seemed to fit the bill for our MD (mid forties). The course was for senior managers and covered all the issues we identified as problematic. Yet he is refusing to go, saying the course isn't senior enough for him and it's too low level. It covers all the areas he said he needed help on and the only other support he has is that he works with a mentor higher up in the business (but I believe this consists of a monthly lunch and not much else). I have my doubts about whether executive coaching would work with him as I think that a 121 training plan with a coach would be an easy thing for him to put off and not see the value in. PLEASE help by giving me insights to what you would do! I am almost running out of ideas...
Jacquie MacIver

13 Responses

  1. How important is it?
    I have come up against similar issues in the past. Remember, it is not mandatory that someone is trained in order to manage effectively. I’ve worked with some incredibly talented managers who wouldn’t be seen dead on a management course. Experience counts for a lot (and we learn by experience after all). This guy is a senior director – so what’s the benefit for him in attending? From his point of view, he’s made it.

    Arguably it is the middle managers who are most important in terms of people management since they run the business. If he’s using a mentor – a very powerful resource – then that may well be far more beneficial to him and the business even if it appears to be an occasional lunch.

    As a backdoor route, it can be useful to offer senior people a scaled down version of management programmes for them to see and feedback on what their staff are attending. Often, the most senior people are the least powerful in terms of their influence over people.

  2. Heart and minds
    What is in it for him? If you work with him on any areas he feels need developing then you may capture his interest. Our board here, myself included, seriously look at what we need for our business rather than do training for the sake of it.Training might be a big turn off for him as it is rare to be trained by someone with a fraction of the experience the director has or who have worked at similar level. We use mentors and coaches but also consultants to shadow for a day to feedback on style etc so I am sure you will find a way, if you get him to speak honestly.

    TBD Global Ltd
    0870 241 3998

  3. Director Development
    Hi Jacquie,

    try to put yourself in his shoes. Why is he saying no? Perhaps it is because he really does believe that the training is too junior for him or perhaps it is because he does not want his lack of formal training to be exposed in a group forum.

    Have you considered offering 1:1 training or coaching for him? I have lots of experience with Director level development in large organisations and would be happy to share them with you.


    0871 288 1355

  4. Convince me!

    From what you have written (which may be just a small prt of the overall picture) I don’t see any mention of HOW you have gone about convincing your MD that training would be useful. So:

    1. People can be “convinced” by 4 main types of evidence: What they see, what they hear, what they try for themselves, what they read.

    So are you providing your MD with information in the right FORMAT?

    2. Even when the evidence is presented in the right format, it is unlikely to be accepted first time out. A few people accept evidence straight off, but most people need to be presented with the evidence several times/over a certain period of time/repeatedly (because they’re NEVER entirely convinced.

    Have you presented the information in the right format enough times (without appearing desperate), or over a sufficient period of time, etc.?

    3. People at senior management level are sometimes quite susceptible to evidence from their peers. Have you asked the training company to provide recommendations from satisfied customers? Can they provide the name of someone your MD is likely to respect who will chat with him over the phone or whatever about the value of the course?

    4. As other writers have indicated, being very senior can nevertheless be accompanied by a pretty delicate ego – and not a little political manouevering in the boardroom. No one wants to show themself up as NEEDING training if this is going to be interpreted as weakness or incompetence – or giving in to the “woolly hatted, touchy-feely brigade down in HR”.

    Is there any chance that you need to deal with dominant (negative) themes in your company’s culture before you can realistically get any senior managers to see training as a valuable extension of their existing skills rather than as a crutch for the incapable?

    In short, it isn’t a case of what he (objectively) NEEDS, it’s what offers a big enough What’s in it for Me? return to outweigh his objections.

    Hope this is of use

  5. Two Possibilities
    Upon reading your dilema, two possiblities came to me: 1)Obtain “comments from satisfied customers” from your training provider and supply these to your MD. Hopefully, you can obtain comments from other MDs in equal or higher positions to your MD. And 2)Find out what your MD’s learning style is and find a blend that appeals to his/her taste. Perhaps a “taster” session will encourage this horse back onto the track. At the end of the day, though, you can’t make that horse drink from the pool of knowledge if he/she doesn’t want to. But, if you can demonstrate a clear advantage (“Show me the money!”) to the effort or resources required, you can make that horse thirsty. Good luck. Ray

  6. Create the need
    Hi Jacquie,

    My experience in a similar circumstance was a reluctant board, but specifically a CEO who had acknowledged development needs but having attended a Center for Creative Leadership course some years earlier felt there was little that training would do to meet his needs.

    The epiphany that convinced him that his need was real, and to do something about it was through a team development workshop for the whole management team. As an illustration, one of his blind spots was creativity so he, along with the rest of the team, took part in an exercise that required a creative solution. He failed to solve the problem himself, and was astounded at how easily some of the other team members coped. It was the key that unlocked the door. The solution we arrived at was a mixture of training, coaching and mentoring and he was a willing and eager partcipant.

    Hope this helps…

  7. Director Developer
    Jacqui – sympathies with this; however, you have 3 options, as I see it: –

    use a reputable 360 degree tool, so that his behaviour needs are identified, rather than his perception of what knowledge is needed (Leadership Research and Development in Leeds has a good instrument)

    Set up some benchmarking with external Directors, so he can see what they are doing (and how)

    Set up external mentoring/coaching via Inst of Directors – an internal facility is perhaps too close to really challenge him without the politics!

  8. Why?
    Training should be either to help someone move into a different level of responsibility or to correct something that isn’t going as well as it should.

    If the senior directors aren’t going anywhere, then the former does not apply.
    If they are not doing something as well as they should then their line manager (or a peer, if not) has to bring it to their attention and help them to recognise the value of doing it differently.
    If an MD doesn’t need to learn Word or Access, then you would hardly want him or her to attend a course on it. If, say, he or she is not delegating, or is lousy at giving important presentations, then if it can be shown what this is doing to hold back them, the business, others etc, training may become more relevant.

  9. Win Win
    Jacquie MacIver,
    Check out the outlook and attitude at work.
    Who’s right and who’s wrong?
    This is a lose, lose situation.
    Back up. Acknowledge, appreciate, approve.
    Respect is key.
    Major CEO’s know the value of fresh light.
    There is a lot not being said here.
    He needs a person to talk it through who will
    see him as a value added source of experience
    and wisdom.
    Identify, define and delegate.
    How can he contribute? Where is the issue?
    Who is the problem? What needs to get done?
    It really begins with you. This is just beginning.
    Ann Lurie Berlin

  10. Large ego!
    I think Gary Holmes is right… your MD is saying that he doesn’t need this course – he’s got far without thank you!! It may be a bit late now but you should have asked his help first saying that you had found this course that you felt was relevant but before you suggest it to the other managers you want to make sure that the level is correct – you think it might be a bit high for them could he advise.etc etc

    Men (and it must be a man!) have large ego’s!!

  11. Use those people who can influence him to show the light!

    i was wondering whether you could either use his mentor to persuade him to attend. Or recommend a coach- i know what you mean about not making time, but if you find a good one then they will be able to challenge him and may even get him onto some of the training you want. i have often found that doing one or coaching sessions that are high impact and demonstrate a real benefit to the senior maangers then they will listen.

  12. Director development is not management development

    It’s the 20th June so it might be a good day to ask all your directors how their personal liabilities have been changed by the Enterprise Act that comes into force today. Do they know that they could face a prison sentence if they take the company into a cartel? Or that they could be disqualified for breaking competition law?

    They’re just a couple of the legal aspects of director responsibility. What about all the other aspects of being on a board of directors – applying appropriate corporate governance principles, carrying out the director role, working in an effective team, setting the company’s strategy, marketing the business, raising and using finance efficiently, dealing with shareholders, establishing a fair employment policy, acting with corporate social responsibility?

    So, there are many issues but directors have nothing to fear and plenty to gain. There are many ways forward once you have captured your directors’ interest and involvement. As mentioned in the other comments, they can get the support of mentors and coaches, and attend focused courses run by the IoD and other agencies.

    As a way in I suggest you give each of them a copy of ‘The Effective Director’ (Ed Chris Pierce, Kogan Page, 2001) written by AMED and IoD consultants. It’s readable, has many case studies and “is also valuable for those who are in a position to coach, train or develop directors, as it is full of practical material and ideas.” (People Management June 2001) And should you ask, “yes, my name is in it but I’m not on a royalty so will not make a penny. “

    Best wishes

    Roger Glanville

  13. Training Resistance
    This is a problem I have seen all of my business life. Would the Director(s) be amenable to on-line access to hugh quality material which they can access without using a keyboard – log-in apart? We find that if pride can be circumvented it is amazing what can be done. If you are interested contact me at


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