Waste of Money

Why Many Leadership Training Courses Are A Waste of Money

Globally, it is estimated that we waste in excess of 250 billion dollars each year on leadership training... Why is this, and what can we do about it?

I must admit, when I first started doing the research for this article, I was somewhat skeptical about the numbers. Actually, I wasn't skeptical, I just didn't want to admit that I have also contributed to — as Harvard Business Review puts it — 'the great training robbery'.

So what is the cause of this great heist? The good news is that no person, function or industry is to blame for wasting money on leadership training, as there are a host of different factors that affect training outcomes. Let's look at the common causes:


Training Learning

One of the biggest causes of ineffective leadership training is our focus on the concept of training. Herein lies the problem, as training is the process of imparting information and knowledge in a manner that instructs the trainee. We need to focus on learning, which is the process of absorbing knowledge and information so that it can be applied under a variety of contexts.

You can train someone to do something - but that doesn't mean they have learned how to do it, or that there has been any change in behaviour. This is one of the reasons why many lifelong learning initiatives fail.

Training also has a very different connotation from learning. Training suggests that you will be trained (have knowledge and information forced upon you). Learning suggest that you will learn (decide why, how and when to apply the knowledge and information). If you are a trainee it suggests that you are a beginner. If you are a learner it suggests that you are developing.


Training Course Learning Journey

This 5-day Leadership Training course provides those in leadership positions with the knowledge and skills to lead and inspire others... I'm sure we have all read course descriptions like this before, and I'm sure that we have all attended a course with a similar description. How many of us have actually changed behaviour as a result of attending an course like this, as apposed to reverting to our old ways of doing things?

“I do not yet know of a man who became a leader as a result of having undergone a leadership course.” 1957, The Wit & Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew

Training courses are typically run over a short period of time, are not based around the business, and do not require you to apply what you have learned. Conversely, a well designed and delivered learning journey is run over a longer period of time, is based around the business, and requires you to learn, practice, reflect and apply what you have learned.

Properly designed learning journeys employ a wide variety of learning strategies and delivery mechanisms to enhance knowledge transfer and encourage behavioral change. They also mean more to the learner!


Management Complacency Management Commitment

Having run numerous leadership development programs over the years, there is one thing I know for certain, a management complacency is a common cause of leadership development initiatives failing.

Can we honestly expect anyone to become a better leader by attending a 5-day course on leadership?

A leaders job is to develop other leaders... Send your leaders of the future to attend a course and hoping they will improve is not enough. Interrupting the learning with work-related issues reduces the importance of learning. Not making the time to discuss what has been learned also reduces the importance of learning.

Leaders have to be 100% committed to the learning and play an active role in ensuring that what gets learned gets applied. With this in mind, leaders and learners should define deliverables at the beginning of any learning journey. The leader should have regular check-ins with both the learner and the facilitator to ensure that progress is being made. The leader should be involved in providing feedback to the learner.


Off The Shelf 100% Customised & Real

In this case study we are going to examine J.C. Penney's "Fair and Square" Pricing Strategy... I'm sure we have all attended a course with a really nice case study about a completely un-related business, and whilst it was a really good case study, it doesn't really help us with our own problems.

The key problem with off-the-shelf courses or learning journeys that are not customised is that they use business models, case studies or role play scenarios that are not specific to the business. The result of this is that learned find it difficult to relate to what has been learned.

We know that for learning to be effective it must be real. With this in mind, leadership development initiatives should be 100% bespoke from start to finish. Business processes, model, case studies and role play scenarios should be specific to the organisation and it's learners.

There is absolutely no point getting people to learn something that cannot be applied!



There are a host of different factors that are responsible for 'the great training robbery'. However, at the end of the day, the learning partner is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the leadership development initiative is designed and delivered with the above factors taken into account.