Not all approaches to leadership development training are equal. Colene Rogers presents why training that occurs in one concentrated session may fail to create lasting change, and what you can do instead.

Does this hypothetical sound at all familiar?

Thrilling news has just graced Linda’s ears. She has been asking for leadership development training for her first-line managers and today she was given the green light. Most of their managers were promoted from within because they were standout individual performers. But leading a team of others requires a completely different skillset than leading yourself, and many of their shortcomings have been on display for all to see.

Immediately, Linda begins an online search for an outside trainer, and it doesn’t take long to find and make her choice. In making her selection, she discussed with the prospective trainer the challenges the managers are having and the content that would address those behaviors. Now all that remains is to schedule the training.

Fast forward…It is now the closing minutes of a full day of off-site leadership development training. Linda is very satisfied as she listens to the participants share with the trainer their biggest takeaways. The trainer delivered the content in a compelling manner, and all the managers were very engaged.

Six months later she is sitting in her office coaching one of the first-line managers on the importance of setting clear expectations for his team members, something he is not doing. Linda thinks, he should know this, it was covered thoroughly in the leadership development training.

In fact, Linda has been saying “He/she should know this” about many of the managers lately. That is when she realizes there isn’t much to show for the leadership development training that took place six short months ago. All that time and money…ugh!

Emotional Intelligence, the essential leadership ingredient.

Daniel Goleman, in his Harvard Business Review article, What Makes a Leader? identifies emotional intelligence as the sine qua non of leadership, i.e., the essential ingredient. The ability to understand and manage personal emotions while being able to influence the emotions of others counts twice as much as IQ and technical skills in determining which leaders will be successful.

Goleman goes on to say that emotional intelligence is born largely in the limbic system of the brain, the part of the brain that governs feelings, impulses, and drives. He contrasts that with the neocortex, the analytical part of the brain where logic and comprehension take place. It is the part of the brain that learns how to do something by reading a book for example.

And here is the thing, most leadership development training programs, in their quest to develop emotional intelligence, are targeting the neocortex where emotional intelligence does not live. In other words, they are targeting the wrong part of the brain.

This helps explain why Linda from our opening story, and countless others like her, are left bewildered and frustrated when they don’t see the fruit from their leadership development training.

Leadership Development involves a change in behavior

Leadership development will always involve a change of behavior. Maybe a leader changes the way they communicate with their direct reports. For example, a leader that used to only talk about the job and the task at hand now asks the team member how the overall job is going for them. They spend time finding out what their career goals might be and how they can help.

But it isn’t always adding a new leadership behavior. Marshall Goldsmith, in his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, has identified 20 bad habits that show up again and again in the many leaders he has coached. The premise of his book is that leadership development often involves removing a bad habit, period.   

Leadership Development Training: A Powerful Approach To Make It Stick Colene Rogers Support Image

One of the 20 bad habits is withholding information. When a leader withholds information, he/she is typically using it to gain an advantage over others. Marshall would coach them to stop doing this, making the case that this is preventing them from reaching the next level of leadership. But he said they often resist because they mistakenly believe withholding information has contributed to their success.

In countless leadership talks that I have given over the years, I have shared Marshall’s 20 bad habits. I do that to shine light on potential blind spots. But awareness alone rarely creates change, it requires something else.

The Power of Habits

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg provides powerful insights for removing negative habits by explaining what he calls habit loops. A habit loop involves a cue that triggers a habitual behavior which results in a perceived reward or payoff. To remove bad habits, you create a new way of behaving in response to the same cue.

Let’s say there is a guy named Matt who has a bad habit of interrupting people in meetings at work. It has been brought to his attention and he agrees, realizing it is negatively affecting how he is perceived. Through self-reflection, he sees that the cue is when others in the meeting start commenting on anything about his department. The cue triggers a defensive posture that manifests itself in physical tension; Matt literally feels himself tighten up. He can only sit like this for a short time before he must speak. The reward is the tension goes away. 

To stop interrupting people, he was given a new way to behave. When people start talking about his department, and his body tightens up, Matt slips the tip of his tongue between his upper and lower teeth and gently bites down, occasionally nodding his head up and down as he listens. He continues to do this until the person has finished their thought. If applicable, he briefly summarizes what the other person has said. Only then does he respond.

Leadership development training requires time and an individualized approach

To increase emotional intelligence, trainers should target the limbic system. This happens best through motivation, extended practice, and feedback. Breaking old habits while establishing new ones, requires what one concentrated session of training cannot provide, time and a more individualized approach. This is what our company, Retention Architects, seeks to do in the different trainings that we provide.

Leadership is not rocket science; the concepts are simple to understand. The hard part is having the discipline to change. In Matt’s case, the concept is simple, stop interrupting people. The behavior change is hard, stop interrupting people.

Leadership development training that is spread out over time with multiple touch points, that provides support, that gives guys like Matt an opportunity to report on their progress and receive feedback, this is what creates transformation.