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Taking the Helm: One-on-one more effective than ‘training’ programs

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Taking the Helm: by Capt. Paul Ferdais

This might sound odd, but as I see it, the training programs that have sprung up in the leadership/management/personal development industries are, for the most part, a waste of time and money.

It’s common for trainers to come in, give out notebooks, have activities, show videos, have discussions, and then end the day with a thank you. This is all great as an activity day for the participants, but in no way does this lead to long-term, lasting personal growth. 

Indeed, it’s impossible to measure the outcome of this type of activity in any way. Sure, we all may feel good at the end of the program, but how about three days later, or three months later? Has the training session led to change in the workplace?

Let’s face it – the reason we take a course or class is to change something we do so we can be more successful. If nothing changes in the workplace or team setting after a training session, what was the point?

For real change to occur, the leadership trainer needs to first spend a few days evaluating where participants are before any training begins. When an instructor comes in to work with a team, the instructor needs to have a sense of what the team actually needs and not presume their material will be effective for everyone.

Be aware that the main person seeking the training is rarely the one who can accurately pinpoint what exactly needs to be worked on. For example, a captain might hire someone to help a team develop their skills, and the captain might think they need to work on their time management skills. Meanwhile, the other teammates might say communication is the No. 1 thing needing work. 

To protect our ego, we all build walls and defenses to keep us from being seen as the bad guy or someone who is deficient to any great extent. Aren’t we all excellent drivers? If we’re all excellent drivers, why are there so many accidents?

Another important point to consider is whether the trainer has some form of follow-up. At the end of a two-day session – or even a weeklong class – the trainer typically says thanks, hope it was worthwhile, then walks out the door, ready to do it all over again with another group the next day. There usually isn’t any follow-up a week, month or six months later to see how things are going.

What’s more effective than these sort of training programs is long-term, one-on-one coaching that includes input from the people who work directly with the one being coached. This arrangement is the only way to change behavior in any long-lasting way.

If you want to change your behavior, keep these steps in mind:

  • Work with someone in a one-on-one setting. Anyone who will help you is there to reinforce ideas. It’s up to you to put in the effort to behave differently. It’s you who wants to have different outcomes, so do what you need to do.
  • Get input from your direct reports. It’s the people who are on the receiving end of your actions who know how you really behave. Seek out their input when looking at what to become better at. This takes a willingness on the part of coworkers to point out actions in a non-hurtful way. A lot of trust between the teammates is required for this to work.
  • Work with the coach over several months. In this way the coach can help reinforce areas to work on over time, since behavior change happens in baby steps. Little by little, things will change. 
  • Get feedback from coworkers. As the months go by, make sure to check in with teammates to see if they notice a change. Since it’s those around us who are on the receiving end of our behavior, they’ll know if there’s change. 
  • Keep at it. Behavior change is a lifelong pursuit. Take it day by day.    

Capt. Paul Ferdais, skipper of a motor yacht, has a master’s degree in leadership and previously ran a leadership training company for yacht crew. Comments are welcome below.

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