Why We Struggle with Traditional Leadership Training

By Thom Dworak

Remember the last time you were sent to leadership training?  You most likely received an email announcing the date, time and location.  And you immediately did two things:

  1. Yelled HOORAY (sarcastically)
  2. Tried to find a way out of attending

As a busy leader anything that disrupts your normal work routine, even if it benefits you, makes it difficult to stay on task or worse get further behind.  Besides you been through leadership training before, why are you going again?

Shortly after earning my stripes I was sent to leadership/management training. The training was required for all newly promoted supervisors’ village-wide. The majority of the new supervisors were from an office setting.  We covered the basics, time management, delegation, office politics and managing "YOUR" employees. 

As a law enforcement first line supervisor, I had an office, but "MY" employees were only together in one place for about 15-30 minutes at the beginning of each shift.  The rest of the time they were remote employees.

Not to be a pain (but sometimes I am), I pointed out several conceptually different ideas about leadership from my (a law enforcement) point of view:

  1. Our workplace environment was mobile, unpredictable and fluid
  2. Many incidents are managed by the "Employee" until I get there
  3. I work with my "Employees", they don't work for me and I don't sign their paychecks.

While the training was good, in my view it was misapplied.  The training was a check box for the organization to show that I received management and leadership training.  Eight hours, a professional looking workbook, a couple of scenarios and a check mark on a piece of paper that I attended training.

No additional training, no further coaching, just a hardy "remember these concepts" when you get back to your new position.  That's where leadership training fails. No follow-up to turn the training into learning.

For learning to take place there needs to be a change in behavior because of experience.  A couple of scenarios in an 8-hour class is a nice start.  For learning or a change in behavior to take hold it needs to be on-going and reinforced. Leadership training and the subsequent development needs to become a habit.

Establishing habits and changing mind-set will not be accomplished in 8, 16 or even 24 hours of training.  Research shows that in order to establish meaningful habit or change takes an average of 66 days of intentional practice.  Although it can be as short as 18 or as long as 254 days.

The formation of a habit is determined by a neurological loop that is defined by the 3 R’s: Reminder, Routine, and Reward. This loop is described in Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit. According to Duhigg, the 3 R’s of habit will help you understand how a cycle or routine becomes a habit.

There should also be a feedback loop (coaching) to assist you in your personal development. Professional coaching is foreign in criminal justice circles.  Professional coaches are used in the private sector to assist leaders in their personal and professional development.

How do we as increase the success rate of leadership or any other type of training? Use the acronym RAD for leadership development:

Recurrent

Accountable

Demonstrable

Recurrent: Leadership training cannot be just a one-shot deal.  If we are talking about behavior change (habit), the training needs to be recurrent.  To retain and reinforce leadership development, training session should occur at regular intervals (Reminder) and begin to establish a routine.

Accountable:  This is a two-way proposition.  The manager/leader is held accountable for the new behavior.  And the manager/leader seeks out someone to hold them accountable during the learning (Routine) process.

Demonstrable: When the new behaviors are observed they should be re-enforced and held out as an example of achieving the overarching goal of the training provided. (Reward)

Follow the RAD design to develop leadership as a habit.  Once leadership becomes a personal and organizational habit, leadership training develops into an expectation instead of an exercise of avoidance.