“I did English at university.”

That doesn’t tell you much about what actually went on, does it?

Here’s what I actually did. Every week I read some books by a particular author and wrote a 1500 word essay about them. Then I went to a tutorial and read this essay out to my tutor, who discussed it with me and gave me pointers about how to develop my argument. 

I loved every minute of it. And here’s what I learned to do: I learned how to write intelligent, nuanced 1500 word essays about literature.

What I didn’t learn to do was write a great work of fiction like Dickens or Shakespeare. I didn’t even learn to write a minor work of fiction like the maligned but commercially successful Jeffery Archer. I didn’t mind about this at all – I didn’t sign up to learn how to be a writer.

95% of all leadership, management and strategy training is like my English degree. People become the literary critics of business skills. They learn to talk about leadership, say the right things about management, sound clever about strategy. 

What they don’t learn to do is actually lead people, manage situations, or create and enact strategy.

The workforce is packed with people who can talk a good game, but have not been helped with how to do any of it.

Imagine you are exploring a case study about decisions made in a particular business. It becomes clear that they should have done X instead of Y. Now you know what they should have done. You make the argument, say the right things, get the grades.

The same situation comes up in your business. Now you have to actually do it. There are resistant owners to persuade. Most of the board is against your proposal. The workforce won’t do it. Your major client is indulging in some sabre rattling. Potentially, millions of pounds rest on your decision. You realise that the people in your case study probably knew what they should have done – the challenge they faced was doing it

In truth, the situation you find yourself in now bears no relation to the one you were in when you looked at the case study. Then, you had to make a semi-academic argument, sound smart and get the scores you needed. Now, a clever Powerpoint is not going to cut it.

This is a post from Why Didn’t Our Training Program Work… and what can we do? – a free resource for businesses in growth