Traditional Leadership Training Actually Makes Matters Worse

The author says that if you really want to increase employee engagement, your have to stop looking in the traditional places for the solutions.

Last week I was talking to a friend who is a former executive at DHS and is now a senior executive in corporate. We were discussing the negative impact of burned out, disengaged employees, and she commented that organizations really needed to focus their attention on incentivizing employee engagement and holding managers accountable for motivating their employees.

Really? Organizations have been doing that for years now and engagement numbers aren’t changing. And neither are employees’ assessments of their managers.

The very premise of her statement is flawed in that it makes “happy” mandatory. Of course, the counter argument is “I don’t care about happy, just give me results!” Yet, we all know that happy gives better results. ARGGHHHH!!!

Over the years, traditional leadership training has devolved from developing and grooming one’s inherent leadership abilities into how to manipulate someone else into doing or being something you want them to do or be. By definition, that “thing” is usually something the other party is not. It has become Manipulation Tradecraft.

No wonder frustration is rampant at all levels! It’s a no-win situation based on some seriously toxic thinking: 

  1. Traditional leadership training assumes employees WANT to be frustrated, burned out, pissed off, or otherwise disengaged. 
  1. Since “disengaged” is the employee’s natural state, they must somehow be either coerced or incentivized (read: bribed) into engagement with the right combination of carrot and stick.
  1. We can’t encourage employees to do what they love and love what they do, because then everybody will skip off through a field of daisies and nobody will do the work!

The whole approach disgusts me.

We’ve become over-trained and under-developed. We have tools, instruments, and assessments that are supposed to tell us who we are, who our colleagues are, and how we can most easily manipulate each other based on those characteristics. But we’ve never learned how to recognize and magnify our own natural, inborn leadership abilities. 

Thanks to all this leadership training, the self-assessment tools don’t even work anymore because we’ve gotten really good at knowing what the “right” answer is supposed to be. We know how we’d like to see ourselves or what we think our organization wants us to be and answer accordingly. Then, we fool ourselves by calling this “self-awareness.” 

If you really want to increase employee engagement, stop looking in the traditional places for the solution. Rightly or wrongly, the old approach of “put your head down, ignore what’s not working and drive on” just isn’t enough anymore.

Organizations and employees both benefit when we encourage employees to grow into the highest version of themselves. (Remember that self-actualization piece at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy?) And while it is not necessarily difficult, it is different. 

One easy way to get started is to simply open a conversation with your team using 3 simple questions:

  1. What do you really like to do?
  2. What are you really good at?
  3. How could you doing more of that help our team meet our objectives?

As I said, encouraging personal growth is not difficult, but it is different. And it requires holding yourself to a higher standard. Are you up for the challenge? I think you are.

Re-energizing mid-career government employees is our specialty here at Greatness In Government. For more strategies to get your happy back, check out 5 Unexpected Success Principles for Creating Greatness In Government

About the Author

Martha Wilson is a retired CIA Operations Officer, leadership instructor, transformational coach and the founder of Greatness In Government, a leadership and personal development firm that specializes in re-energizing mid-career government employees. Organizations that are struggling with complaints about bad leaders, discrimination, bullying and other symptoms of employee dissatisfaction hire her when they are ready for a fresh approach to leadership training. She also provides private coaching to high-potential government employees who have decided to assume responsibility for their own personal and professional development.