If I’m enthused about a subject, it isn’t long before I find myself buying a book about it.

About 15 years ago I got interested in martial arts, and in 1999 I bought the the best marial arts book I’ve ever read. It is a fantastic read, and for the next six months I took it everywhere with me. 

I devoured the descriptions of technical aspects of all the different martial arts, and gorged myself on the stories of the American author seeking out tai chi masters in exotic, repressive 1980s China.

My quiz-question knowledge of martial arts ballooned. I could identify an aikido move at 25 yards, tell you who invented judo, and make smart comments like yeah, well – everyone knows tae kwon do is just Korean karate, don’t they?

Eventually the book performed its greatest service, and prompted me to enrol in a tai chi club in London. I walked into my first lesson bursting with textbook knowledge, keen to run the rule over the instructor…

… and spent the next ten years being thrown on the floor (as all my fellow martial arts bookworms will know – and as I found out through painful experience – there are throws in Wu style tai chi).

The book did its job. It informed, entertained and enthused me about its subject, and pushed me through the doors of a tai chi club. What it couldn’t do was build my level of skill – and deep down I didn’t expect it to. Sitting on the sofa eating biscuits and reading a book was not going to turn me into a tai chi master.

Management books can play the same role as my martial arts paperback. They can inform, entertain, and bring us new ideas. But to build skill in leading and managing others, you need the help of another person, and you will actually have to do something (although being thrown on a mat is reassuringly rare in the training world!)

The first and major reason why management training courses of all kinds don’t work is because nobody has to do anything with all the stuff they learn / talk about / role-play / watch on the video.

It doesn’t matter if you use e-learning, classroom style teaching with flip charts and powerpoint, outward bound courses, films or anything else. Unless someone has to go back into the workplace and use some of this management knowledge, come back to the training and talk about what results they created, go back and use it some more, etc. then the delegates on any management course end up like me after I read my martial arts book. What they learned was not how to lead and manage people, but how to talk about leading and managing people.