Can trainee programs teach leadership? Yes, but most of them don’t

I conducted a project leadership for members of a trainee program.  Attendees were motivated and full of energy.  Participation was very good and some of the insights and outcomes of the interactive exercises were even astounding.  Then, toward the end, the bubble of excitement bursted when one of the attendees asked for more detailed instructions how to apply „my“ 5 leadership principles for project success.  „Eh, what!?“ I thought. „Have I missed anything? Didn’t we just go through a number of exercises that addressed the very same question?“ – What went wrong?

108088_web_R_K_by_Jerzy Sawluk_pixelio.deYou have to act like a little kid again to become a leader

What went wrong was that I mistakenly assumed that the trainees to think on their own, to leave their old perceptions behind at least for a few moments and to walk on their own.  Sorry, this was a mistake. What I didn’t understand or at least forgot that students these days have been drilled to memorize whatever the teacher gives them.  The less they challenge the material, the better.  For it is more important to get a good grade and pass.
This is legitimate and it works for the grand majority of people.  However, if you want to train leaders it is a dead end.  You have to take (most) students back to when they were little kids asking the annoying „WHY?“ question over and over again.  And – you have to encourage these leadership trainees to go ahead and ask the WHY? question on a daily basis.  Even if they face obstacles, opposition and rejection.  If they don’t have the guts and maybe even don’t see the necessity to take these steps, they should not claim to learn something about leadership.  They may become decent managers but probably never reach the level of leadership.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGood trainee programs build playgrounds

On this token, can trainee programs teach leadership? – Yes, if they start teaching their trainees the necessity and value of asking WHY? and to start walking on their own.  – Luckily, they do exist. – If instead trainee programs focus on technical and old-school management skills, forget it.