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.

8 thoughts on “Leadership & Training Costs: A Huge Waste?

  1. When people recognize that organizations are complex adaptive systems, use the Process Enneagram (a tool of complexity), and fully engage the people building trust and openness, to solve important, complex problems facing them, transformation and a new culture emerge. In using this approach when I was a plant manager, the organization grew and thrived. They sustained this level of excellence for 17 years, 12 of which were after I left. Then the managers went back to the old way of doing things and the organization fell apart. Living in the new way takes courage and commitment, but this is worth it. Richard N Knowles


  2. That just about sums it up.  I was never in upper management in any corporation I worked for, but I did achieve mid level and worked alongside CEO’s and CFO’s as well as VP’s, etc. and became knowledgeable about their thought process’.  Even in the late 60’s I saw similar patterns from company to company and constantly made the statement that nothing changes except the name of the company.  For the most part I worked in the accounting and personnel (later human resources) departments of many.  I learned over time that in order to get them to accept any idea I had to present it as though it affected the bottom line, only then did I get their attention.  Nothing has changed in that area.  What has changed is how these executives are compensated.  Prior to Reagan, they received salaries and top marginal tax rate was 74% so they limited their salaries and they put profits back into the companies, grew them and employees received raises based on their productivity.  Once Reagan lowered the that top marginal rate down to 28% and allowed top execs to receive stock options as part of their compensation, they turned their focus towards Wall Street and off of the company and no longer did they spend a lifetime, or 10-30 years building a company, they floated from corporation to corporation and their main qualification was that they were psychopaths and cared nothing for the workers only the profits.  So wages stagnated.  I recall hearing about that time about credit cards being needed to keep people spending like they had previously even though their income levels were declining either directly or indirectly due to inflation and rising costs. Judy From: Tom’s Thoughts To: spiritwalker63@sbcglobal.net Sent: Wednesday, March 25, 2015 6:05 AM Subject: [New post] Leadership & Training Costs: A Huge Waste? #yiv4694115542 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv4694115542 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv4694115542 a.yiv4694115542primaryactionlink:link, #yiv4694115542 a.yiv4694115542primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv4694115542 a.yiv4694115542primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv4694115542 a.yiv4694115542primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv4694115542 WordPress.com | Tom Heuerman posted: “$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 ” | |


  3. “They didn’t want to lead people; they wanted to fix machines.”
    That sentence says it all.
    I’ve worked in human service type settings my entire work life. Right now, my work focuses on protecting/championing the rights of individuals who are considered vulnerable. I’ve never experienced the feeling of being a “cog” more so than in this job. There is a VAST disconnect between what we publicly do and how we function in our own backyard. I do understand that I am simply a ‘cog,’ whose function (within the machine) is to make sure the top leadership looks good.


  4. Tom,
    Very powerful and, likely, way too true for many peoples comfort. The dearth of leadership in companies in the US (maybe the world) is frightening.
    Dick Tracy

    Liked by 1 person

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