The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Stop Training, Start Developing Your Leaders

“If what you desire is a robotic, static thinker – train them. If you’re seeking innovative, critical thinkers – develop them.” Mike Myatt, author, columnist and leadership advisor to Fortune 500 boards and CEOs, writing for

iStock_000008266083SmallMost organizations have come to realize the importance of cultivating their leaders (both current and aspiring), but what many fail to understand is that “training” and “development” are not synonymous. Many leadership programs fail to produce the desired outcomes because they focus on training around a specific set of objectives rather than developing competencies that will benefit the leaders, their direct reports, their colleagues and the organization as a whole.

According to Myatt, “Training is the #1 reason leadership development fails. Training … presumes the need for indoctrination on systems, processes and techniques … [and] assumes that said systems, processes and techniques are the right way to do things … Training focuses on best practices, while development focuses on next practices. Training is often a rote, one directional, one dimensional, one-size-fits-all, authoritarian process that imposes static, outdated information … [and] takes place within a monologue rather than a dialogue. Perhaps worst of all, training usually occurs within a vacuum driven by past experience, not by future needs.”

A Success Story
After several years of primarily “training” university leaders, University of North Carolina Charlotte’s learning and development team recently instituted a competency-based leadership development program. Dubbed The Leadership Experience, the semester-long program focuses on skills needed to develop core leadership competencies such as strategic leadership, coaching and delegation, change management, and staff development. The program allows participants to develop personal strategies for leadership success, network with peers, share best practices, interact with university leaders, and participate in a 360-degree assessment of their leadership strengths and opportunities. The capstone of the program is a team-based project focused on the employee life cycle and the manager’s role within it.

So has UNC Charlotte’s new leadership development program yielded any ROI? Anecdotal evidence says yes. Aside from rave reviews from program participants, in a survey of participants’ direct reports, 62 percent strongly agreed and 27 percent somewhat agreed that they had seen a positive change in the behavior and leadership style of their supervisors as a result of the program.

So is your institution training or developing its leaders? If it’s the former, you might want to rethink your approach.

For its Leadership Experience program, UNC Charlotte’s training and development team received CUPA-HR’s 2014 Excellence in Human Resource Practices Award. The team will be formally recognized at the association’s annual conference in San Antonio this fall.