Training Leadership

If you have seen my videos or columns, then you know that my focus is on Task Accomplishment. I have always felt that there are enough people out there talking about leadership that I did not need to duplicate this effort. I have no problem with those who choose to write about Leadership, but of the literally hundreds of articles I have read on the topic, only two or three have ever given me the kind of information I found relevant or applicable.

That being said, I recently read an article by “The Military Leader” titled “Have We Removed Leadership from Leader Development?”  It took me reading the column three times to really grasp the message (no fault to the author, I was a bit slow on the pick-up). Bottom line up front, how do you focus on teaching Leadership, not just conducting task focused development of leaders, in the Operational Army?

This was a good article, and I suggest you give it a read. I will be looking forward to his next post, where the Military Leader will be writing about his suggestions on how to make Leadership the focus of Leadership Development Programs (LDP). Here are my thoughts ahead of this.

1. Put effort into what you do in classrooms.

I can’t tell you how many LDP sessions I have been a part of where I was in a stuffy conference room or the Old Man’s cramped office, listening to people who outrank me drone on. Even in the best case scenarios, it is hard to get anything out of them. I have to admit, I have subjected my subordinates to them as well. Why do we punish ourselves so?

Because we have to put LDP on the calendar. It has to be a deliberate action so that we can demonstrate to our superiors that it is a priority of ours so we can get them off our backs.  As long as we are going to make this a deliberate session, why don’t we deliberately plan for it?

Set up table top exercises, where learning is an end result of the audiences actions. Guide the discussion towards an endgame, but let the participants figure it out. Establish realistic, challenging scenarios with multiple solutions. Highlight where core leadership competencies aided in solving the problem, or where lack thereof hindered them.

2. Get out of the classroom.

Why are we in the old man’s office in the first place? There is no amount of coffee that can make a classroom an optimal training environment for any task, much less developing leadership. Get the group to meet somewhere that changes the environment. Stay away from any environment that puts subordinates on the defensive (motor pools, sand tables, company areas ect..). It may sound unconventional, but I have always found the best place is the Officer Club.

Power down the scope or audience. Invite only Lieutenants or Captains.  Or even better, only 3-5 people at a time. Come prepared with a topic and what the end state of the training is. Focus on things that have happened. This can be something that occurred during a training event, or it could be something more administrative. Ask your subordinates some pointed questions. What they want to accomplish? What was the mission? What happened? How did you apply core leadership principals?  Guide their analysis of the event, and let them come to their own conclusions.

3. The two times rule.

I am an intelligent guy. You are an intelligent guy/gal. Chances are, your bosses are intelligent, as are your subordinates. We are all intelligent people. 

That being said, there is no reason to prove it by holding our subordinates hostage to our speeches during LPD sessions. Your audience will have tuned out after a few minutes (on purpose or not). Even if you have spent days or weeks preparing what you are going to say, at some point, it will be ineffective.

Your subordinates should be doing at least twice as much talking as you.  Listen to what they have to say. Let them come to their own conclusions.  If they are not the lessons you are looking for them to divine, guide the discussion away from that lesson and step back. Admire the intelligence of your subordinates.

4. Trust vs Gotcha.

Because Leadership is an abstract topic, honesty and openness are everything when discussing it. Though there are wrong answers, there is no one “right” answer. Feeling free to expose failures and preconceived notions will allow the learning process to take root, yielding positive results.

This will all be destroyed if there is a “Gotcha” environment. I hate to say it, but there needs to be a “safe space” set up. Not in the terms of sparing someone’s feelings, but somewhere that your subordinates can be OK with identifying and confronting their shortcomings.  Allow yourself, or your subordinates, to harshly critique (see: Monday Morning Quarterback), and that subordinate will no longer trust the training. This may cause them to shut down completely.

Conversely, allow your subordinate to show off when they have succeeded, but keep the focus on how they succeeded, not that they succeeded.


To be sure, not everyone can be taught to be a leader. Expecting that an LPD program can create leaders out of anyone is faulty. But a leader can come from anyone, so it is your (and my) job to try our best to teach leadership. 

Bottom line, Prepare and take it seriously, try to do it outside of a classroom, let the audience do the talking, and create trust.