No Image Available


Read more from TrainingZone

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

What’s wrong with training anyway?


Larry Reynolds, MD of 21st Century Leader examines the different functions within management development fulfilled by different kinds of learning.

Ten years ago leadership development meant sending someone on a training course. These days leadership development means choosing from a bewildering variety of activities – coaching, mentoring, action learning, 360 degree feedback, to mention but a few. What’s happened? Why is training no longer enough to develop leaders?

Clive is an enthusiastic young manager. His enthusiasm and energy are among his many strengths, but they can also be weaknesses: Clive is so enthusiastic about things that he fails to see why other people don’t agree with everything he says. He often rubs people up the wrong way. Clive’s manager, Helen, recognises this and has sent him on numerous courses on communication skills and personal effectiveness, but none of them have made the slightest difference to Clive’s behaviour. Why not?

Training courses are pretty good at imparting skills and knowledge. But before you can acquire these skills and knowledge, you need to have sufficient self awareness to realise that these skills are necessary. Training courses are generally not so good at developing self-awareness. Activities which do impart self awareness are things like 360 degree feedback, assessment centres, coaching and mentoring.

Helen arranges for Clive to take part in a 360 degree feedback activity. He chooses six of his team members to complete a questionnaire about his performance as a leader, and the results are compiled and fed back to him.
‘It was the worst day of my life’ Clive said, commenting on the day he received the feedback. ‘I had no idea that so many people obviously think I’m such a pillock. One thing’s for sure – I’ve got to make some changes.’?

Now Clive had the self awareness – he knew that changes had to be made. But knowing that changes are needed is not the same as knowing what changes to make. Before he could acquire new skills and knowledge, Clive needed some new perspectives on what being a leader was all about. Mentoring, coaching, action learning and other kinds of developmental relationships are excellent ways of developing new perspectives.

Helen arranged for Clive to meet with a mentor – a much more senior person from within the company who could help Clive to work out the best ways of relating to his team, his peers and his boss.

Once Clive had had a few sessions with his mentor he started to look at leadership in a new way. He realised that he did need to acquire some new skills, and with Helen’s support, attended some further skills based training courses – which did make a difference this time.

In summary – in order to grow as a leader, skills and knowledge is not enough. You must also develop self awareness and new perspectives. Different kinds of development activity are needed to develop these different kinds of learning. Sending someone onto a training course is rarely, in itself, enough to bring about a change in self awareness and new perspectives. Developing leaders is a process, not an event.

Here’s the full range of development activities and the kinds of learning they best support:

1. Feedback activities
360 degree feedback – simulations and role plays with feedback - computer based assessment activities – psychometric tests – some outdoor development

2. Training
Traditional classroom training – in-house training – external courses – distance learning – individual study – e-learning – traditional courses at universities and business schools

3. Developmental relationships
Coaching – mentoring – action learning sets – communities of practice

4. Planned experiences
Job shadowing – job swaps – projects and assignments – working in a new area/business/ country - high decision making authority – personal development plans

5. Unplanned experiences
Personal trauma - making a big mistake - career setbacks - dealing with difficult people

This last category is a bit of a cheat – by definition, you can’t plan an unplanned developmental experience. But if you ask real people how they learnt to become a leader, unplanned experiences tend to feature strongly, and that’s why they’re included here.

How do these development activities relate to different kinds of learning? Here’s how:

Self awarenessNew PerspectivesSkillsKnowledge
1. Feedback activitiesExcellentGoodPoorOK
2. TrainingPoorOKExcellentExcellent
3. Developmental relationshipsGoodExcellentGoodGood
4. Planned experiencesOKExcellentPoorGood
5. Unplanned experiencesGoodExcellentPoorOK

This table should not be taken too seriously – much depends on the specific individual, the specific development activity and the specific learning outcome. Nevertheless it is a useful guide to begin to assess the part different developmental activities can play in an effective leadership development programme. It also explains why coaching is so popular at the moment as a developmental activity.

Larry Reynolds


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!