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Stephen Walker

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What we need from leadership training pt2


Stephen Walker concludes his feature about the ways in which leadership skills can be learnt. 

I will not list the top twenty leadership theories because you will come up with six more. There is a huge number of documents, videos, books, cave drawings, hieroglyphics and who knows what on leadership. Training in leadership entails exposure to all these to learn the techniques. The leader with only one technique will not be able to lead optimally every time. Different situations require different techniques. The techniques can be learned in isolation, much as one learns a set of scales on the piano. To bring all these theories and techniques together requires experiential learning. This training involves putting the proto-leader in a situation and allowing the non-catastrophic testing of different techniques. In fact multiple situations are best. Flight simulators and helicopter immersion escape exercises are examples of non-lethal training opportunities.

Personal skills

There is so much training available in the basic human skills of listening, communicating, being empathetic, being assertive and so many more. All these are necessary. The better equipped the novice leader is with basic skills the greater the chance of eventual success. Then the leadership techniques, some of which I touched on, need to be understood and a basic capability developed in them. The use of case studies develops the understanding of which tools and techniques work best in different situations is essential. The opportunity to practise leadership in real situations is powerful as it develops the skill in situations that the trainer would never put together in a simulation. Junior leadership roles provide this training ground as do volunteer opportunities. 


To be wise requires the assimilation of the basic knowledge of the situation: all the tools and techniques discussed previously. The leader, equipped with these basics, is now required to develop a maturity in their use, in decision making, in calm scenario planning, in rational risk taking and to be confident when faced with the foibles of Lady Luck. Finally wisdom comes from experience: experience here meaning making mistakes. It is difficult to learn from other people’s mistakes but training experiences where mistakes can be made without catastrophic consequences are essential. A good leader will have experienced a few bruised knees and bloodied nose during their life.


Firstly, knowledge of leadership tools, techniques and frameworks is essential. A good leader, while always ready to innovate, should surely want to start from as informed a position as possible. The training industry has an enormous part to play here.

Secondly, a leader has to have experience of leading. Training simulations can be effective, but junior positions in the organisation or voluntary roles all have a part to play in developing the leader’s experience. Then we come to wisdom. Good leaders are wise and some ways of developing wisdom have been described. It is clear how military training is associated with leadership. The successful application of wisdom in the heat of battle, with the best laid plans upset by an innovative enemy, leads to victory. Perhaps we should ensure that anyone looking for a position of leadership has shown this wisdom in a real situation? Why do we vote people to Parliament when they haven’t had experience in local government? Can anyone suggest a more appropriate training ground for our national politicians?

Read part one of this feature here

Stephen is a co-founder of Motivation Matters, set up in 2004 to develop organisation behaviour to drive greater performance. He has worked for notable organisations such as Corning, De La Rue and Buhler and has been hired to help Philips, Lloyds TSB and a raft of others. He is a published author of articles and now a book “The Manager's Guide to Conducting Interviews”. He speaks at Conferences and is a Keynote speaker on organizational performance and the managerial behaviour needed for success. It is all about “upgrading organization performance by improving the manager-employee relationship” he says. You can follow Stephen on LinkedInTwitterFacebookYouTube and Blog


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