Does Leadership Training Really Work?

September 2015

inquiring minds

As many associations are thinking about or planning their new board orientation or other types of volunteer training, it may be time for all of us to do some re-thinking. Some of you may be saying: “we do this every year, and we have the same old issues and challenges coming up over and over again no matter what we tell them to do. What can we do differently that might make a difference?”

I recently read a blog called Why Leadership Training Doesn’t Work (by Erika Anderson). As a frequent facilitator of leadership training sessions, I thought: “Oh no, that’s the last thing I want to hear!”

Anderson says that most leadership training consists of:

  1. Herd a bunch people into a big room
  2. Have somebody stand up in front and tell them what they ought to be doing and why
  3. Have a discussion or case study about the thing they’re supposed to be doing
  4. The end

She also describes what kids go through when they learn something new or different – watching someone else do it and then tying it yourself in a low-risk environment (so you can make mistakes and reflect and improve).

Becoming a better leader (or anything) requires:

  1. A desire to learn
  2. Learning or (re-learning) some new behaviors
  3. Practicing them

Don’t you wish you could practice a bit before you get into action? And maybe it takes some re-learning of what you thought you already knew but have somehow put those tried and true actions into mothballs…


Your leadership training shouldn’t begin just with the steps mentioned above and then stop.  Your committed volunteers really want the chance to practice a bit – in formal training and even on the job.  How can this be done?  Just a few ideas:

  1. Provide real situations that have happened in the past and ask for your training participants to act as the leader to pretend it’s happening to them – for real. (You may want to change the names to protect the innocent….)
  2. Provide some basic tips on how you chair meetings before your elective year begins and invite everyone, not just incoming chairs.
  3. Put your newer volunteers in the lead position in meetings by having vice chairs or project chairs on as many things as you can.
  4. Share with board members how their actions can (and should) match their plan to allow the association to move ahead strategically and practice with some plan objectives.
  5. Utilize mentors who are available to coach those who want to learn and practice more – on the job and in simulations.

What ideas do you have that have worked at your association? Share them and we’ll all benefit.

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