by V. S. Ravi Elangkoh

What’s in a word? One wrong word could spell the difference between success and failure, or life and death. Think about an erroneous label on the package of a prescribed drug and you get the picture.

Leadership Training ≠ Leadership Development

Mike Myatt, a keynote leadership speaker and the author of Leadership Matters and Hacking Leadership, asserts that the number one reason why leadership development fails is because it is approached as leadership training. Using the wrong word automatically – albeit unintentionally – clouds our perception and starts us off on the wrong footing because it changes how we perceive and implement the process.

The following is a summary of 20 differences between “training” and “development”. Reflect on the differences and see how this new insight impacts your own leadership development and the way you would now evaluate the leadership development initiatives that your organization is implementing for your people.

Difference between TRAINING and DEVELOPMENT (derived from Mike Myatt, 2012)

Blends to a norm Occurs beyond the norm
Focuses on technique/content/curriculum Focuses on people
Tests patience Tests courage
Focuses on the present/Focuses on “best practices” Focuses on the future/Focuses on “next practices”
Adheres to standards Maximizes potential
Transactional Transformational
Focuses on maintenance Focuses on growth
Focuses on the role Focuses on the person
Indoctrinates Educates
Maintains status quo Shatters status quo/Catalyzes innovation
Stifles culture Enriches culture
Encourages compliance Emphasizes performance
Focuses on efficiency Focuses on effectiveness
Focuses on problems Focuses on solutions
Focuses on reporting lines Expands influence
Occurs within a box Frees people from the box
Mechanical Intellectual
Focuses on what is known Explores the unknowns
Places people in a comfort zone Moves people out of their comfort zones
Finite Infinite

Architects in discussionWhile I am not dogmatic about the precise term that my clients use to articulate their leadership development journey, I concur with Myatt about the fundamental difference between development and training. Leadership development requires you to continuously coach, mentor and disciple your people instead of corralling them behind closed doors to undergo finite training sessions.

Knowing the difference is important because the gap between development and training is very costly. It is the contrast between billions of dollars and thousands of hours spent unwisely on training, and priceless leadership effectiveness gained through the right development solutions.

How and When

For consultant Erika Andersen, the author of several books, including Leading So Others Will Follow, the word “training” is not the issue. Rather, it is how the session is conducted. More specifically, how we facilitate the transition from non-mastery to mastery. Andersen notes that most training stops at creating awareness instead of progressing to the practice of the desired behaviour in a low-risk environment. What Andersen observes is consistent with what experienced leadership coaches and facilitators know – we learn to lead by leading, not just by learning about leading.

Peter Bregman, the author of 18 Minutes, believes it’s not just about practising the right behaviour but also about when you practise it. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So the test of whether leadership development is successful is whether you dare to practise what you know to be right in a highly charged, live situation. Bergman calls such situations “the heat of the moment”.

That defining moment is a critical turning point where the right behaviour – words, actions, attitudes – could radically turn events around for the better. It is a test of whether the desired new behaviour honed through various sessions has successfully become significant and sustainable in your leadership development journey.

It doesn’t matter how famous the leadership facilitator is, how popular the leadership course is, how many other people have taken the course, or how fun and exhilarating the sessions are – it is the opportunity for real practice that makes up the real jewel in the crown.

Concluding remarks

What is the main takeaway from our discussion above? If you forget everything else, these are the key points that you must remember in a nutshell:

Leadership development is experiential, not theoretical. It engages both the emotional and intellectual faculties. Therefore, practice trumps preaching – first practise in a low-risk environment, then make sure you do it as well in the real world when and where it really matters.

What then should we do? Since the goal of leadership development is to change one’s behaviour to empower someone to lead, I strongly advocate experiential discovery learning, which would include highly interactive sessions in holistic leadership development programmes, complemented by on-going coaching and mentoring.



Photo credit

Photo courtesy of Ambro