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Back in the late 90’s while practicing social work, I had a client who had been court-mandated to take parenting training for the 2nd time. When I let her know that she would have to take the classes as part of her bid to regain custody, she quickly jumped up and grabbed a certificate. So proud, she exclaimed, “but I already went, here is my certificate!” Unfortunately, like many others, she believed that by attending a training and having a certificate gave her the knowledge and skills needed to implement and maintain behavior change.

Training, by definition, is “the action of teaching a person (or animal) a particular skill or type of behavior”. Learning, though, is “the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience and study”. Training focuses on the person in the front of the room, learning is about the person sitting in the seat. If we need to convey topics that are black and white, like laws and policy, then training can be effective. Leaders, though, need to learn concepts with more fluidity, so a training course is not the best choice.

Three reasons why training doesn’t work:

1. Training tends to focus on only one way to a goal

I love to take road trips and my ideal road trip is to have a destination but to be open to the route I take, the sights I stop to see and the length of time it takes me. Others need to plan everything in advance in order for them to have great trip. When a spontaneous person is forced into a plan or a planner is forced to wing it, there can be very unhappy travelers. This is why a one size fits all training can be ineffective. It may meet the needs of some people while leaving others feeling frustrated and ignored. The likelihood that you reach your destination of real change diminishes. Leaders need to learn people skills, problem-solving, critical thinking and emotional intelligence among other things. For a leader to be effective, they need to be invested in and own their process, their style and be able to choose from multiple “routes” or concepts to see what fits best for their team in different situations.

2. Training is a short-term fix and not a sustainable method for development

True leadership development is ongoing and fluid. About two years ago, a client asked for leadership training. She wanted me to come in once a week for nine weeks to “get it over with.” I explained that this approach would not provide the change she was looking for. So often, organizations want to send their people to training to “check a box” yet are surprised when they don’t see long-lasting change. We agreed to a longer time frame and developed a program that had action plans built in for the in-between times and an accountability plan in place for the COO down to the participants. While we may learn concepts in a classroom, we need to consistently practice “on the job,” have an environment that supports our development and an accountability partner to keep us on track.

3. Our brain is wired for habits and the path of least resistance

Physiologically, we are created for habits. Our brains are very effective at maintaining the status quo and it takes more effort to do something new. In fact, change is registered in the brain as pain. More often than not, “training” is a one-off without follow-up or implementation plans for real change. When we expect our leaders to change behavior to be more effective yet don’t establish an environment in which that change sticks, we do them and the organization a disservice. One way we can make learning stick is with the AGES Model developed by the NeuroLeadership Institute.

AGES stands for:

Attention– having complete and focused attention

Generation– making learning meaningful by tying to real-life experience

Emotion– looking for ways to build an emotional connection to learning

Spacing– growing memory by taking a break between sessions

Research shows that people learn better when they teach. So, one of the best ways we can engage all four concepts of the model and retain information is to teach the concepts and/or process to someone else. It is important to develop your leaders and help them be poised for the ever-changing workplace.

Knowing what is the most effective way to learn and develop skills will put them on the right path as they lead their teams to success.