The One Thing You Need to Know Before Investing in Leadership Training

Every year, organizations invest millions of dollars and countless hours in leadership training. Their intention is worthwhile: produce better leaders and see a return on investment (ROI) in retention, productivity, engagement, growth, the bottom line, and so much more.

Oh, if only this could be guaranteed when you sign the contract and write the check! Sadly, ineffective training leads to an approximate loss of $13.5M per year, per 1000 employees.

If you’re going to invest in your leaders (which I highly encourage), let’s understand why so much money is being lost and where that training is going wrong.

In conversations with our clients, we hear about their experiences with other training programs:

  • “We saw no measurable shift in behavior after the training.”
  • “We lost money and it didn’t produce the results we hoped.”
  • “The content was good, but it didn’t stick after training.”

Ouch. Clearly, ineffective, not to mention so costly. But why?


I’ve trained in lots of places with lots of different content. Admittedly, some of it has been dry and boring — but necessary. Thankfully, some of it has been engaging and transformative.

Quite frankly, the two extremes are not as different as you might think. Whether “bad” or “good,” doesn’t matter much if not practiced and experienced in ways that allow whatever has been taught to be replicated, repeated, and applied!

The problem with most leadership training is not content quality. The problem is that the content isn’t actionable. It doesn’t sink in enough to shift behavior in sustainable ways. There was no experience to enable it to stick, to work, to matter.

Leadership training, all training, needs to be an immersive experience with in-the-moment implementation of the concepts being taught and specific, strategic ways in which it can be used again and again once the training is over.

Good concepts and great ideas, though inspiring, are not enough.

Painful rhetorical questions abound when experiential learning evades. How do I apply this? Where? With whom? How can I translate this information into action; into actual behavior? What difference will this make on a daily basis? Now what?

In the absence of clear and obvious answers, the ROI we were hoping for plummets.

Bottom line: results (and ROI) from leadership training rely on experiences, not just intellectual intake.

The 70:20:10 Model for Learning and Development asserts that 70% of our knowledge and learning comes from job-related experiences, 20% from interactions with others, and 10% from formal educational/training events.

If a leadership training program does not create a bridge between formalized training and hands-on experience, it isn’t taking advantage of the most effective ways people learn.

Meaningful connections between content and application are rarely made through one-off, contrived scenarios. Even interactive fishbowl discussions or hypothetical role-playing scenarios diminish learning potential. And while theory is great, you can’t do theory.

Experiential learning allows participants to retain and implement what’s being trained in ways that sustain new behaviors long after the program is completed.

At Fierce, we take this seriously. We acknowledge at the start of every training — both in-classroom and virtual — that we require ‘real play,’ not role play.

We know that no matter how great our content, it is not relevant, actionable, or sustainable without the integration of actual, current, pressing challenges, brought into the room by the very individuals present.

One of the Fierce models I frequently train is CONFRONT. Let’s be honest: whether leaders or not, we tend to avoid the conversations we know are going to be difficult. We play them out in our heads. We anticipate how they’re going to go. And the potential consequences just don’t seem worth the effort or the risk.

So in class, I could easily, even effectively, talk about confrontation, why it matters, why it often fails before it starts, give statistics, and even provide specific how-tos on stepping into those conversations. I could, and I do. But there is so much more.

Participants script out what they need to say… to a real person in a real situation (not a simulation, not pretending, not making something up). Then they practice delivering that “opening statement” with one other person in the room, getting feedback, making adjustments, and doing it again.

This is not easy!

We often prefer to stay in theory, take notes, and hope that, somehow, we will subliminally absorb the wisdom and courage needed to do better. But to hear ourselves speak (out loud)- what needs to be said in a safe, contained environment is a different experience altogether.

It is an experience, period. And that makes all the difference.

I hear leader after leader tell me how powerful the experience was for them, how much they learned about themselves, how practical the models are, how they wish they’d learned them long before, and how they will definitely use them once class is over.

Those comments, combined with what I have the privilege of witnessing day after day — with leader after leader and client after client — assures me that the training has already merited an ROI with far more to come.


All leadership programs intend to train people to be more effective. Dig deeper. Identify the programs that offer the how-to, the actual skills, practices, specifics, and repeatable actions that give leaders the capacity to walk their talk.

To communicate effectively through tangible models and practices; to build relationships across, up, and down in ways that produce individual and collective change at a deep, behavioral level. Anything less lessens your training results, your ROI, and most importantly, your leaders’ ability to excel.

And make sure it sticks.

Unfortunately, many organizations still believe there is a silver bullet out there: a training program that will deliver leader transformation after sitting in class for two days. There’s no such thing.

It takes so much more. Experiential learning, hands-on practice, a focus on real issues (not role-play), ongoing support, and significant commitment from the leaders themselves, the organization as a whole, and the company providing the training.

We provide our Fierce clients with the “stickiest” training out there because we know you need and deserve leadership development programs that are more than just a one-and-done event. Training that delivers an acceptable ROI will sustain and reinforce new behavior that lasts and makes a positive, sustained impact on business results.

Don’t settle for anything less.


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