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  • Martin Harshberger

Leadership Training Doesn’t Work!

Updated: Sep 13, 2020

If you are a coach or consultant providing leadership training, you don’t want to hear that. But if you’ve been doing it for any length of time, and are honest with yourself, you probably know that statement is true.


I read an article in the Harvard Business Review, by Michael Beer, (great name), Magnus Finnestrom and Derek Schrader in the October 2018 issue.

They quoted multiple studies that show that companies spent $356B in 2015 for training. And for the most part, that investment didn’t improve organizational performance.

Inspired people went back to their jobs and fell into their old routines. They gave several reasons for this:

  • Lack of strategic clarity

  • Top-down management practices

  • Political environment

  • Cross-functional conflict

Studies have shown that up to 85% of strategies and change initiatives fail. If you can’t change the system, you are setting people up to fail.

The same HBR article looked at why this happens.


Leaders view the organization as a collection of individuals. People should be selected and trained for the right skills.


That development model doesn’t acknowledge that the "organizations are systems of interacting elements: roles, responsibilities, and relationships are defined by organizational structure, processes, leadership styles, and people’s backgrounds."


Barriers to change:

  • No clear strategy, vision, and values lead to conflicting priorities

  • Lack of leadership commitment to change

  • Top-down leadership that’s not open to discussion

  • Lack of coordination across business functions

  • Poor communications on why change is needed.

  • Lack of regular review to progress

  • People are rarely compensated for executing change.

What’s the answer?

Leadership training treats the symptom, and it doesn’t address the root cause.


Any strategy or change initiative has to begin with a holistic analysis of the organization. Leadership training by design is a one and done program. It provides information but not execution.

Strategy development and change initiatives of any kind require as a minimum:

  • Where does the organization want to go?

  • Why is it important?

  • Who benefits from the change? Is the impact on people positive or negative?

  • Where is the organization currently?

  • Across all functions

  • An honest appraisal of management-employee relations

  • Process and system reviews

  • Develop a strategy for implementing the required change

  • Review regularly

  • Leadership must take a “lead” role.

My practice deals with Repeatable Business Development, which requires the organization to consistently add profitable sales by addressing all of the issues above and a few more. Leadership training, change initiatives and strategy execution usually fail because they don’t look at the entire organization, identify the barriers, and monitor accountability.

My challenge to you is, what will you do differently delivering your services in the future?

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