Training to Become a Better Manager? Here's Why It Might Fail You

Try focusing on skills that override specific situations.

As discussed by Zenger & Folkman, we wait too long to train our leaders.  But I would also argue that we are missing an entirely different boat where managerial training is concerned. Yes, we often delay until the last possible moment to deliver needed support. However, we may also target the wrong skills — or at least overlook a very different set of skills — that would prove useful.

While we send employees in droves to training, many might argue that the long-term benefits do not justify the cost. I'll go one step further. We may be hurting future managers/leaders — because they may feel completely prepared, when in fact, they are not.

One key failing may be the narrow contextual focus of managerial training, or in other words, if training can be readily applied to our own work. When we train for a specific situation or even a certain set of variables, training can fall short. The content may not translate to, or mirror, what we experience back in the real world. This limits the impact of training upon our future performance.

What we might consider is focusing on a set of skills that "override" specific situations, building skills that help managers "crack the wall of context," providing a broad base to draw upon. (May I add that this is to augment built functional training that occurs before this.) To this end, we could supplement functional expertise by focusing on other skills sets that are needed in our work lives — offering a strong foundation to help us master a very complex world. 

One opportunity is developing the elements that comprise psychological capital— a construct that emphasizes feelings of hope, self-efficacy, resiliency and optimism (The HERO variables). Developing resiliency is a perfect illustration. Here are a few great reasons to focus on this particular element:

  • It isn't a fixed trait. Resiliency is now considered to be "state-like," not a fixed trait. In other words, we can affect it with proper exposure and training.
  • Resilience training focuses on assets, risk and "influence processes."  Risk can include factors that lower resilience, such as a lack of a mentor. Assets are elements, such as an education, that could enhance resiliency. Ultimately, these factors alter our perceptions concerning the ability to impact our own world.
  • It is a healthy response to challenge. Trying situations can activate resiliency. We need to accurately assess a setback, assess our control and options. Research is beginning to reveal that resilience positively enhances performance.

What are your thoughts about training managers and future leaders? Should we change course? What are we doing right? What might be missing?

Marla Gottschalk, an industrial/organizational psychologist, is a senior consultant at Allied Talent.