The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

October 2, 2016

The Problem With Leadership Training

Most companies see leadership training as important; most spend lots of money on it. And 3 out of 4 company execs are dissatisfied with the results of their training programs. The problem? Training is usually done wrong. It uses techniques that, while perhaps inspiring, are seldom sustainable. What does it take? What works to develop leaders for good?

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Voiceover: It’s a Northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. Now, a show for anyone who is or has a boss – this is The Boss Show with Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Steve M: Hi there, welcome to The Boss Show. I’m Steve Motenko, I’m the psychology guy. I’m an executive coach and personal development coach as well, here in the Seattle area.


Jim H: And you’re a prima donna and you’re really difficult to work with.


Steve M: Yeah, it’s a really great way to start the show; really inviting.


Jim H: I’m Jim Hessler, I’m the business guy.


Steve M: Inviting you into our conflict-ridden relationship.


Jim H: I am the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development and the author, along with Steve, of the book Land on Your Feet, Not on Your Face. In case you’re not aware of it, I’m kidding. I think Steve is a wonderful guy and I’m glad to be doing the show with him.


Steve M: Thanks. Do I have to say the same about you?


Jim H: No you don’t. Don’t bother.


Steve M: Today on The Boss Show, the problem with … [crosstalk 00:00:55]


Jim H: We can’t completely lose our integrity at The Boss Show.


Steve M: Or our judgments.


Jim H: Or our judgments.


Steve M: Yeah, that’s the next show, is how to work with our judgments.


Jim H: Right, embrace our judgments, that should be our next show.


Steve M: There you go, or our next book.


Jim H: Yeah.


Steve M: Today on The Boss Show, the problem with leadership training. The problem with training – period. Jim, I couldn’t decide whether to name the show “The Problem with Training” or “How People Change and Why They Don’t.” Which do you think is better?


Jim H: Well, “The Problem with Training” because …


Steve M: That’s the business we’re in?


Jim H: Yeah Well, yeah. Well, I wouldn’t say it’s the business we’re in. That’s not the term we like to use.


Steve M: No, I hate the term training. It reminds me of a puppy and when you deal with humans, hopefully you’re working with a little more fostering of intrinsic motivation than you’re necessarily doing with puppies.


Jim H: Yes and no matter how motivated you are, sometimes you need techniques and sometimes you need skills and sometimes there is a certain amount of training and repetition involved in learning how to have a good conversation, for example, or how to conduct an interview; things like that. It’s a combination to me, it’s always been a combination of having the context, the contextual understanding of why you’re doing what you’re doing and the skill to do it well.


Steve M: Right, and how to get there is what we want to talk about today and how not to get there, because what’s happening is that throughout the culture of organizations, what’s being done to get people those skills is not working. All this was prompted from me by an article that came across my desk, actually from our partner Shannon Bruce, on the Kitsap Peninsula here, west of Seattle. It’s from the October 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review, which I know you agree is kind of a gold standard of leadership publications.


Jim H: Yeah, let’s talk about that for a second. I read every page of the Harvard Business Review for about 10 years. I don’t read it every month anymore; I’m looking more selective …


Steve M: Because you’re a slacker?


Jim H: Well, it tends to repeat itself but always good articles. It’s about 120 pages long, no advertisements or hardly any advertisements and very, very substantive stuff. If you really want to learn your craft, it’s a good magazine to read.


Steve M: The highlighted piece in the HBR this month, October, says three-quarters of the nearly 1,500 senior managers at 50 organizations interviewed said that they were dissatisfied with their company’s learning and development function. Everybody recognizes the need for learning and development for employees. In fact, if you subscribe to our podcast, my guess is that you’re someone who believes that as well.


Jim H: Uh-hmm (affirmative).


Steve M: Probably not listening to the show unless you believe in the importance of growth. Your own growth …


Jim H: Right.


Steve M: Your colleague’s growth. Just getting better at things than you are now …


Jim H: Or you just like to hear us make fools out of ourselves too; that’s always a possibility.


Steve M: There is that. Maybe we’ll take a poll on who is the greatest fool maker-outer of self between the two of us. Anyway, if you are subscribed to our podcast, you probably believe in growth, you probably believe that everybody in your workplace should be wanting to grow as well. Really, it’s a common thread among all leaders, we need to not only grow the company but grow the individuals and grow the teams within the company.


The question is, what are we doing wrong because what’s happening to make growth happen is not working very well, according to the people who make the decisions. We want to talk about after the break is, what form does leadership development take, development in general take, training in general take, and why isn’t it working?


Jim H: And it’s not, just in case you’re wondering.


Steve M: And can we make it work? Let’s talk about that too when we come back. For now, you’re listening to The Boss Show.





It’s a Northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. The Boss Show continues.


Jim H: Yes welcome back. I’m Jim Hessler; I’m the business guy.


Steve M: And I’m Steve Motenko, I’m the psychology guy. Topic for today on The Boss Show is the problem with leadership training. It’s really the same problem with training in general. We mentioned before the break that three-quarters of senior managers are dissatisfied with their company’s learning and development function, even though they think it’s critically important.


Jim H: Yeah and in context here, we’re presenting this show as the problem with leadership training and this is what we do for a living.


Steve M: Exactly, maybe I should have said that up front.


Jim H: Yeah.


Steve M: There may be some irony in that for you and we guarantee we will resolve that irony toward the end of the show, because we really do want to end up talking about what works in leadership training. Thus, what you should kind of judge your own training efforts by.


Where I want to start is I want to ask you, to invite you on a thought experiment with me. When you think about, again we’ll talk about leadership development and that really encompasses kind of all the soft skills. Anything that’s not about learning how to wield or learning how to code.


Jim H: Communication, relationship building.


Steve M: Team building.


Jim H: Team building, yeah. I would include maybe some harder things like [crosstalk 00:06:27]


Steve M: Like project manager? Yep.


Jim H: Project manager and planning and things like that.


Steve M: Yeah, so accountability works, [structure for 00:06:32], all of this comes under the umbrella of leadership development. What form does it usually take? Again, go on a thought experiment with me. Your boss comes to you and says, “you’ve been identified as a high potential leader and we’re going to send you to a leadership development training.” Again as we said before the break, I hate the word training. I’m going to use that term because it’s common.


Jim H: “And we’re sending you because 25 other people in our organization have been to this program and they came back Monday saying how much they loved it.”


Steve M: “Yeah, they were really inspired by it.” So what happens? Well first of all, you go to a place that’s probably not your workplace. It’s a hotel conference room or a retreat center or something. [crosstalk 00:07:14]


Jim H: If you’re lucky, it’s the Radisson.


Steve M: Yeah.


Jim H: The Airport Radisson.


Steve M: The airport Radisson. Yeah, it’s probably a very high probability that it is the Airport Radisson. I was in Spring Hill Suites this morning [crosstalk 00:07:31]


Jim H: Yeah!


Steve M: … for a training on this workshop, something we will talk about later. First of all you go off sight. You take this training in a place that’s not in your workplace, not always but typically, and what message does that send? What message does it send, what’s the subconscious learning from that?


Jim H: This is somebody else’s program.


Steve M: Right.


Jim H: You know, where this is, you’re going to go learn from somebody else, not from us.


Steve M: Right, and it’s extraneous [crosstalk 00:08:01]


Jim H: It’s extraneous.


Steve M: … to our day-to-day operations.


Jim H: Right.


Steve M: right? It’s kind of extra-curricular.


Jim H: Right. We might not be comfortable with that sort of thing happening inside of our building. It might be a little too risky or open or something like that. There’s all kinds of assumptions I think, that could be made from having it off site.


Steve M: Right, but the bottom line there is it’s different. It’s not part of normal work.


Jim H: Yeah.


Steve M: Right? And think about the message that that sends as you come back later and try to implement what you’ve learned. Okay, so you go to this hotel conference room, you’ve got a really good facilitator. She’s really inspiring, she’s fast-paced, she keeps your attention.


Jim H: Organized, great PowerPoint slides.


Steve M: Yeah, yeah and you’re thinking, “All right, this is going to be good. This is going to be worth my time. Something different that I don’t usually do.” Now this facilitator has probably a model. Something, some content that she’s trying to delivery to you that’s proprietary that the subconscious or the implicit notion is this is the way. This is the best way. There are lots of other ways, but this is really the best way and we’ve got all statistics to prove it.


Jim H: Follow these five rules [crosstalk 00:09:10]


Steve M: Exactly.


Jim H: … and you’ll be successful.


Steve M: Yeah, and so of course this facilitator has the incentive to really convince you that this is the best way – maybe even the only way – to success. That’s how the facilitator’s company becomes successful.


Jim H: That’s their brand.


Steve M: Right.


Jim H: That’s the way they’re selling the program.


Steve M: Right.


Jim H: So they have to sell it to the participants just the same.


Steve M: Right. So you work through this model. You see the advantages in it. I’m talking best case scenario here, right.


Jim H: Yeah.


Steve M: Okay, I mean worst case scenario we could go there too but you know I [crosstalk 00:09:45]


Jim H: Because you want to shoot the facilitator after an hour and a half.


Steve M: There you go. And the model has a lot to digest, but it seems like it could be really useful stuff if you could go back and apply it to your workplace. So when we come back from the break, let’s talk more about what this best case leadership training scenario looks like, and why it still doesn’t work to create sustainable learning in the workplace.


The problem with training. You’re listening to The Boss Show.





Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko. This is The Boss Show on KOMO News.


Steve M: Hi, I’m Steve Motenko, I’m the psychology guy [crosstalk 00:10:24]


Jim H: Hey, hi, hi. Hi, I’m Jim Hessler, I’m the business guy.


Steve M: And you were supposed to lead this segment.


Jim H: Opps!


Steve M: But you’re too busy looking at your notes.


Jim H: Yes.


Steve M: Because you want to make it a great experience.


Jim H: I like to just read notes, I don’t actually like to interact with you.


Steve M: Yes.


Jim H: I just like to keep my eyes on [crosstalk 00:10:43]


Steve M: In a very monotonous way.


Jim H: … just read, yes.


Steve M: Okay, so we’re talking today about the problem with leadership training with training in general. We’ve started this kind of thought experiment where we’re walking into this hotel room as an employee of a company and as this employee I’ve been identified as a high potential leader. I’m walking into this leadership training, I’m all inspired by the facilitator and the facilitator’s model. I’m thinking, “Yeah, this is good stuff.” It gets me out of work for a little while – of course we don’t regard this as work – which is another kind of subtle indication [crosstalk 00:11:13]


Jim H: Right.


Steve M: … of it’s sustainability. This is not really work.


Jim H: There’s a nice spiral-bound notebook with all the places to keep notes.


Steve M: Yeah, colors and graphics.


Jim H: Colors, yeah.


Steve M: And really well designed and so forth, and all that’s cool and kind of looks professional and I’m a professional so that’s good. There’s some exercises, some interactive exercises.


Jim H: Uh-hmm (affirmative).


Steve M: And again, best case scenario if we’re lucky, they’re pretty thought provoking.


Jim H: You know, there’s a lot of good content out there. We would argue that the problem, and maybe you’re going to get here, but the problem with most leadership development programs isn’t the content. There’s a lot of good content out there.


Steve M: Yeah.


Jim H: I mean there’s a million books, there’s some really good, solid ideas about leadership and what it is. We don’t argue with content as much as we argue with delivery and with the experience of the learner in the program.


Steve M: Right, and as we’ll get into later with structures that are created or not created for accountability. Okay, so you’ve got these great interactive exercises. You’re at a small, round table with 4 or 5 other people. You’ve done this, you know this. You’ve been there, done there, right?


Jim H: Typically from other companies.


Steve M: From other companies. You’re having good conversations. You’re sharing ideas. You’re sharing perspectives. You’re finding a lot of similarity in your challenges. You’re having a really good time.


Jim H: Yeah, it’s a good day.


Steve M: The facilitator’s great. Model’s great. Content’s great. Interactive again, best case scenario this really feels like it’s worth your time. Maybe at a deeper level you’re learning about yourself in ways you haven’t learned about yourself before.


Jim H: Sure, asking some questions. Pondering, maybe reflecting on the way you conduct yourself at work in a way that you haven’t done before.


Steve M: Yeah.


Jim H: So far sounding good.


Steve M: Yeah, we’re having a good time.


Jim H: We’re having a good time.


Steve M: At this leadership training.


Jim H: Yeah.


Steve M: And it ends. Yeah, you’re sorry to see it go. You’ve been sitting in a workshop for a long time so you’re kind of glad; mixed feelings. And you leave with some [crosstalk 00:13:03]


Jim H: Yeah, but I actually call this the Kumbaya moment, right? Typically at the end of one of these sessions, and by the way, this is often a one day or two day program. These are very common in our industry; maybe three days on the outside.


Steve M: Executives, maybe they do a a five day strategic [crosstalk 00:13:22]


Jim H: Maybe a five day grouping, but they’re typically one or two days. We call them single event training development programs.


Steve M: Uh-hmm (affirmative).


Jim H: And there’s a Kumbaya moment. You go up and you shake the facilitator’s hand and you’re very glad you met everybody and you’re pretty committed at this point to taking back what you learned and putting it into action.


Steve M: Yeah, maybe you made some great connections. And what did you take, what are you taking away with you, Jim; best case scenario?


Jim H: Oh, probably some recognition of some things I’d done wrong.


Steve M: Uh-hmm (affirmative).


Jim H: Some things that I want to change. Maybe some truisms or some almost slogany kind of stuff that I could take back. The more memorable stuff, the sticky stuff.


Steve M: Uh-hmm (affirmative), yeah.


Jim H: The cleaver wording of concepts.


Steve M: Right, you’ve got the tools and you’ve got the content and the elegance of the model.


Jim H: Uh-hmm (affirmative).


Steve M: And an action plan. Probably, best case scenario, you’ve got an action plan.


Jim H: Yes.


Steve M: To implement what you’ve learned in the workplace, and then it falls apart. Why does it fall apart? Stay with us. You’re listing to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: KOMO News. The Boss Show is back on a north west lifestyle weekend. Here’s Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Jim H: I am Jim Hessler, I’m the business guy. If you’d like to contact us, we’d love to hear from you. 206-973-7377 is our listener line, also talk to us at If you go to, you can listen to all of our past shows.


Steve M: I’m Steve Motenko, I’m the psychology guy. Speaking of contacting us and again, the listener comment line number is 206-973-7377, in case you didn’t get it the first time. We’re going to do a show soon on personality style assessment, so if you’ve got some familiarities, some passion with the Myers-Briggs, the DiSC, the one with the colors, the Enneagram; any of that as it applies to the workplace.


Jim H: The one with the colors.


Steve M: The one with the colors.


Jim H: I’m sure they’d love it to be [crosstalk 00:15:26]


Steve M: I’m an expert.


Jim H: Personalysis.


Steve M: Personalysis. I think there’s actually a number of them that have colors [crosstalk 00:15:32]


Jim H: Yeah. Personalysis is the one I’ve seen the most.


Steve M: Yeah, if you’ve got experience with that, let us know what you think and how it’s helped or not; your experience in the workplace.


Today we’re talking about the problem with training and of [crosstalk 00:15:44]


Jim H: Leadership training, specifically.


Steve M: Yeah, but I think again, they’re kind of interchangeable because so many trainings fall under the same, have these same problems of sustainability. So I’m leading you on this thought experiment where we’ve gone to this really excellent, professional leadership training and here’s where we are. We’re done with the training. We got inspired. We got content. We got connections.


Jim H: We have our binder. We have our spiral binder [crosstalk 00:16:11]


Steve M: We have our action plans.


Jim H: … full of all the materials and all the promises we made to ourselves about things we were going to change.


Steve M: Now, Monday morning, Jim. You get back from this training. Just Monday morning, what happens?


Jim H: Yeah, it happens that quickly. People, we often talk about noon on Monday and people laugh at us, but it is literally true. So you walk in and the environment that you’re stepping in to does not reflect the kind of enlightened scenario that was presented for you on Friday.


So immediately you’re seeing that what you have just been taught in the seminar or the leadership development program, is not being modeled for you by peers, employees, or bosses. And there’s an immediate deterioration of your commitment to the program because of that.


Steve M: And there’s another layer and it’s actually a more superficial layer. That is you get back to work and you’ve got stuff you’ve got to get done.


Jim H: Yeah.


Steve M: You’ve been out for a couple days at this leadership training. You’re email inbox is piled up. You’re project task list is piled up.


Jim H: And by the way, if you’re lucky enough for your boss to remember that you went to the training and say, “Hey Steve, how was the training?”


Steve M: Right.


Jim H: You’ve just come off this high. You’ve had a really good weekend. You’re telling your partner and everybody else about how much you loved the training. And you tell your boss, “Yeah, it was great.” And so what your boss files that away and says, “Oh, that’s good leadership development programs. We need to send more people.”


Steve M: That’s right, and we’ll do so in the future and yet still, as we said at the top of the show, three-quarters of senior executives say their learning and development function isn’t working in their organization. So you’ve got this double whammy. You come back to work, you’ve got all this stuff to do and you think to yourself, “Well, let’s see it’s Monday. I’m behind because of the training I went to. I’ve got time and I’ve got the material to implement this training. I will start my action plan tomorrow.”


Jim H: Uh-hmm (affirmative).


Steve M: And tomorrow roles along and, “Well you know, there’s still a lot to do.” And then this deeper level, Jim that you identified kicks in where there’s nothing around you, your boss maybe, your organizational culture, that’s really actively supporting the implementation of these learnings. And the gravity pull of old habits [crosstalk 00:18:31]


Jim H: Absolutely.


Steve M: … is so powerful. You know, as a coach I see it all the time. The gravity pull of old habit keeps us from developing new habits, especially when they really involve maybe a paradigm shift, a mindset.


Jim H: Yeah, well think about your family, how often you go to Thanksgiving thinking, “Well this year it’s going to be different.”


Steve M: With the best of intentions.


Jim H: This year I’m not going to get in an argument with my sister and I’m not going to get angry at my mother, and this year Thanksgiving’s going to be different. And you walk in and you get immediately sucked into the family drama. It’s not that different at work, it really isn’t that different at work.


Steve M: No it absolutely isn’t, and what makes it insidious is that quite often the impacts of our culture on us are almost impossible to see.


Jim H: Right.


Steve M: They’re the water that the fish swims in. The fish doesn’t know it’s water, it’s just what is. Without that, you can’t possibly combat it.


A deeper layer of why trainings don’t work, when we come back. You’re listening to The Boss Show.





It’s a north west lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. The Boss Show continues.


Jim H: Hi, I’m Jim Hessler, I’m the business guy.


Steve M: And I’m Steve Motenko, I’m the psychology guy. We’re talking about why trainings, especially leadership trainings, tend not to work across the board in the American organizational culture. Back to what we mentioned at the top of the show about this Harvard Business Review article, they noted that studies showed that manager’s attitudes change as a result of training. But that most managers then regress to their pre-training views, even attitudinally. In other words, even what they believe in in the face of the power of culture and the power of habit, their beliefs have been changed, which is quite a testimonial to the quality of the workshop. Right?


Jim H: Right.


Steve M: The training. But then their attitudes regressed to their pre-training views. The only exceptions, the research shows, is for those participants whose bosses practiced and believed in the new leadership style the program was designed to [change 00:20:39].


Jim H: So, so important, yes.


Steve M: So your relationship with your boss is incredibly critical.


Jim H: Well, and I think this is where cynicism comes from. Cynicism to me comes when you have some sort of optimistic hope that things are going to get changed or things could be better than they are. Then you just get beaten down by reality, right?


Steve M: Uh-hmm (affirmative).


Jim H: I think if you send somebody to a training program, a development program where a vision for something much better is presented to them and then they come back and lose hope that they can make that vision achievable in their own environment, it makes them cynical. Really it’s almost better not to send people to a leadership development program then send them to it and have no intention of making that the reality that they work in every day.


Steve M: Yeah, well said. Part of it is people put way too much stock in will power.


Jim H: Yeah.


Steve M: They think, “I’ve learned this new material. I’m committed to it. I’m inspired by it. I’m going to go and I’m going to make it happen.” They think that they can do it individually. One point that the Harvard Business Review article made clear was that I think the extension of this notion that will power is all we need is the leadership midset that organizations are simply aggregations of individuals. All we need to do is train enough individuals [crosstalk 00:22:00]


Jim H: Right.


Steve M: … and everything, we get the results we want.


Jim H: And we can train them discretely and separately from one another [crosstalk 00:22:06]


Steve M: Exactly.


Jim H: … and hope that that will change.


Steve M: What leaders tend not to see, what our culture overall at large tends not to see is that leaders, organizations are systems of interacting, interlocking components.


Jim H: Uh-hmm (affirmative).


Steve M: You pull on one thread and it impacts all the other threads. You really have to take a systemic approach to training; a systemic approach in our case to leadership development, to even have a hope of success.


Jim H: I would also add it tends to be, I don’t know if you agree with this but it tends to be the bad behavior that wins the culture wars. Right? Somebody’s trying to take the high road and somebody’s trying to implement some visionary style of leadership, it’s the people who don’t do that that tend to win that culture war.


Steve M: I think the reason is that the people who are focused on power are really good at wielding power.


Jim H: Yeah.


Steve M: If you have a higher ideal but you’re not bringing as effectively to the bare and the seriousness of that higher ideal, then the person who’s focused on their own individual power is going to eat you for lunch.


Jim H: Right. If it doesn’t make me more powerful, I’m not motivated to put it into action.


Steve M: Right. If you’ve listened to the whole show, you might be in somewhat of despair and I hate to put it this way, but you’re going to need to wait a week – unless you’re listening to podcast a few weeks hence – to take care of the solution because we really passionately, Jim and I, believe that there is a solution to this puzzle of leadership training that doesn’t work. There is a way to develop people in ways that are sustainable, that impact the bottom line of the organization.


Stay tuned, it’s The Boss Show.





Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko. This is The Boss Show on KOMO News.


Steve M: Hi there, welcome back. I’m Steve Motenko, I’m the psychology guy.


Jim H: Hey Steve, this is Jim Hessler. I’m the business guy. I want to tell you about my desk. I got a new desk at home.


Steve M: That sounds exciting.


Jim H: Well, it’s one of these adjustable, stand up desks.


Steve M: Uh-hmm (affirmative), yep, see them all over now.


Jim H: We’re seeing more of them. I’ve got to tell the brand name is Autonomous. This thing, I’m a big guy and I could stand up and do jumping jacks on this thing and wouldn’t bend it. It’s solid as a rock. It’s really easy to use and really easy to adjust. I’ll tell you, it is so nice to be able to get up out of my chair and stand up and alternate standing and sitting positions.


Steve M: How much standing do you do in a given day?


Jim H: Probably with this desk when I’m home, probably about 25% of the time I’m working, I’m standing up and that makes a big difference.


Steve M: Think about it folks. Sitting is the new smoking, it seems.


Jim H: Yeah.


Steve M: Standing up in the workplace is really helpful. [crosstalk 00:24:42]


Jim H: I’ve got to say, this particular brand I was really impressed with. Company’s called Autonomous, so there you go. There’s our product pitch for the week.


Steve M: The Boss Show, and we’re not paid for.


The Boss Show is produced by Boss Media Productions. Our Sound Engineer is Kevin Dodrill.


Jim H: If you have an idea for a Boss Show topic or maybe you’d like to talk to us about our leadership coaching or about working with your organization’s leaders, send us an email to talk to us at, or call us at 206-973-7377.


Steve M: Next week – Leadership training that actually works, as opposed to what we were talking about today. Thanks for listening.


Jim H: And don’t forget, Rule Number 6.


Steve M: Rule Number 6.



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