Leadership & Training Costs: A Huge Waste?

$70 billion a year for corporate training in the U.S. (Forbes)?

Much of that obscene amount is spent on leadership development and mostly failed efforts to transform corporations.

I had nine promotions over 16 years at the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis, MN. When I left the company the CEO of Cowles Media said my leadership had changed the company forever.

In each job I led groups of people from mediocrity to excellence in value-driven ways. In eight of those positions, I didn’t have consultants or training programs to help me. I simply did what made sense to me and acted according to my values.

Each time I left a group, it regressed to previous levels of mediocrity or worse. This pattern cuts across all levels of leadership in all industries.

I left the Star Tribune and completed a Ph.D. in Leadership and Organizational Change. I wanted to help leaders develop the talents needed to lead organizations through transformational change. In 13 years of consulting, I met two leaders I thought were great. One was fired (guess what happened to the company he led) and the other was promoted.

I met many executives who claimed they wanted to transform the cultures of their organizations as one way to improve the bottom line. None had the insight they needed to change how they thought about leadership and organizations and undergo a personal transformation as or before they led their organizations through transformation. All resisted doing the difficult personal work to grow as leaders. All proved to lack the skills, talents, courage, and commitment to lead difficult change. They wanted cosmetic quick-fixes: fast, easy, cheap and painless and from the outside with no demands for them to learn new things or manage difficult conflict. They didn’t want to lead people; they wanted to fix machines.

Quick fixes endure because they ask so little of us.

I interviewed a front-line supervisor in the power industry. He was upset.

He said, “A consultant sat with me every minute for two weeks and told me how to do my job. I thought I was going crazy. I had to go to a psychiatrist.”

I asked, “What happened after the consultant left?” He smiled and said, “Everything went back to the way it had been.”

That outcome happens in a high percentage of training and change efforts that try to mechanically fix organizations from the top utilizing outside experts who get a significant percentage of the $70 billion spent on “corporate training.”

James Hollis, Ph.D. wrote in “What Really Matters”:

Further, I have come to consider most of what passes for “self-help” literature today as obscene because it ignores the complexities of life, glosses over the ardor and commitment required for change, and promises panaceas not likely to happen.

I could say the same about leaders, academics and consultants. Our enterprises have a dearth of quality leaders. Too many leaders, consultants and authors of books about life in organizations ignore or deny the dark side of life in organizations. Real leaders in organizations often get marginalized. People try to transform organizations from a world view that guarantees a reinvention of what already exists. Too many lie about how hard change can be. Billions of dollars are, I believe, wasted year after year.

Those few genuinely talented and value-driven senior leaders in our organizations should save much of the money spent on corporate training, identify the gifted leaders in their companies (at all levels) who get marginalized because their abilities frighten others, and elevate them to positions of power in their enterprises. Then involve them and engage them with you to create vision, values and purpose and send them out to engage and involve employees and make the vision real.

These leaders will do the rest including making decisions on the books they will read, consultants they will hire and training programs they will use.

A Good Person

I have come to the conclusion that whether or not a person is a religious believer does not matter much. Far more important is that they be good human beings. The Dali Lama

Timothy James Hollis in What Really Matters by James Hollis:


I have always believed in a strong work ethic
but the definition of which is widely different:
I didn’t do well in school;
I have gone job to job,
but what I worked on most,
the only thing I care about,
is being the best human being I can be.

This is in conflict with number crunchers,
those who still believe in a ladder to success.
I failed miserably in all those respects
and have a genuine friend from each of those experiences.

The definitions put forth in this culture, and many others,
work well for those like minded:
for those of us who are centered elsewhere,
it often ends poorly.

I know the routines very well and have performed,
but when I see an antlered buck on the side of the road
or a rock that sparks fascination,
or a grocer who is especially kind,
I feel alive.

Of course we need bridge builders and planners
and those with heart-mind of creating community,
and I think I am not an aberration
but a necessary part.

I do not advocate anyone follow my path:
there is a place, though,
for the mystical, the artists, poets and the like
to stop, for a second, the serious minded
and say, “look.”

Psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote that to save our world we must create the “good person.” He defined the good person as:

The self-evolving person,

The fully human person,

The self-actualizing person….

To become a good person is the work of a life time.

God and I

I had forsaken all priests. . . and those called the most experienced people; for I saw that there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. George Fox founder of The Religious Society of Friends

My  parents took my two older brothers and my younger sister to church and Sunday school every week. I went to summer church camp a couple of times and was confirmed.

I never really took to church.

Over several generations of my adult life, I tried church again, several times. I felt disappointed in my experiences and left.

Church, religion and religious leaders didn’t often “speak to my condition.”

In 1974 I spent a month in an alcohol treatment center. I’ve been chemical free for almost 41 years now. Treatment was a spiritual encounter—one of the most enlarging experiences of my life. I connected with fellow suffers and had a powerful experience of love and community. The Twelve Steps of AA discuss a higher power. I thought about my higher power. I realized that I prayed to the traditional God of my youth throughout my adult life–church or no church.

No one knows if God exists or if we have consciousness after death. Part of me believes in God. I continue to pray. But I have doubts. My relationship with God can be contentious at times as I struggle to understand how an all-powerful God can allow such evil and suffering in our world. Injustice and unfairness cause me to believe that God, if real, does not intervene in our lives so I don’t ask for things in my prayers. Instead I pray for strength, wisdom and courage. But on occasion the urge feels so strong that I ask for outcomes too.

Like George Fox, I don’t look to outside authorities for guidance. I follow no religion. I am my own learning laboratory. If God guides me, his direction and voice come from within me–from my deepest authenticity. But who can know for sure whose voice I hear?

I was born with consciousness. I can ponder my purpose in life, the values that I live my life by and I can imagine and create visions for my life. I can reflect on my experiences and learn and adapt from them. I strive to know and understand myself and to live true to my best self. I demonstrate my faith when I live my values and purpose even when times are uncertain and difficult. My belief in God is strongest when I am in nature and see her wonder and amazement.

I respect the beliefs and choices of people to take their own spiritual journeys and to express their beliefs in their own ways. I feel contempt for those who use religion to justify their evil deeds and stupid beliefs.

I can see, know and understand so little.

My spiritual journey continues.