Developing Capable People – Fatal Flaw #2 – Thinking that training is the same thing

In the preface to the paperback edition of Newt Gingrich’s bestseller “Breakout” he quotes from Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard that:

“The things that work in the 21st Century will have four characteristics. They will be digital, mobile, virtual, and personal.”

In so saying she opened up the #1 problem in leadership development. Typically leadership development is actually leadership training.
They are not the same. Here’s why:

Leadership training is rooted in and focused upon the past.

It takes processes and procedures that are in place as the starting point. This is absolutely a fatal flaw.

Developing capable people does not start with yesterday. It does not start with today. It begins with tomorrow, the future, the days, months, years, and decades ahead. Mark Wyatt said it like this in Forbes magazine:

“My problem with training is it presumes the need for indoctrination on systems, processes and techniques. Moreover, training assumes that said systems, processes and techniques are the right way to do things.”

I have to agree with him. In nearly every case I have ever seen, leadership development programs focus on showing people how to do things the way they have been done. It is a recipe for failure. Why?

Because if you do what you have always done you will get what you’ve always got.

Training is fine if you want to show someone how to assemble widgets. But it does assume that the current best practice for widget assembling is outdated? What if there might be a better way? What if the widget is becoming obsolete? When, where, and most importantly, who will determine if widget production needs to cease or morph into Widget 2.0?

When I first started in this I used a typewriter. Copies were typically made on a mimeograph machine or a ditto machine. Address lists of any size were kept on Addressograph plates requiring huge amounts of storage space.

There is no future in the past.

Developing capable people will fail and fail catastrophically if it majors on systems, processes, procedures, methods, and devices. Developing capable people, if it is to have a chance at succeeding, must focus on thinking about tomorrow.

This is where we, as developers of capable people, must consider our approach and our intent. If you want to train people for handling tasks, then strike the word development from your speech. Acquired skills and applied techniques has its place, but it is not development.

Development demands higher thinking, deeper understanding, and longer vision. Carly Fiorina gets it, so does Mark Wyatt, but do you? To develop capable people you cannot ever stop thinking about tomorrow. Ever! The future is ahead, not behind.

Development means to coach, mentor, disciple, and well, develop. It means to extract the principles of effective leadership from the past because principle are eternal while practices are temporary. If you want to develop skills of communication you do not show someone how to use a typewriter. You show them the principles of conveying meaning from one to another, about the subtleties and nuances of messaging and understanding. The you let them try. If it works, discuss why. If it doesn’t, then discuss why not?

Leadership means to lead people into green pastures. It does not mean to show someone how to chew. You can build a fortress around your methods and processes, or you can liberate people to discover and implement innovative means to reach the objectives you have so thoroughly and so often articulated in the vision of your company or organization. You can lock people into step or you can unlock creativity and motivation. The former is training, the latter is leadership.


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