Monday, November 12, 2012

Can Influence and Leadership be Trained?

Of all the training available, there's a tremendous interest in buying training on influence and leadership.  This means two things. The first is that our conventional education system doesn't cover influence and leadership effectively.  The second is that both individuals and corporations recognize that the ability to influence effectively needs to be developed. It's not just an inborn talent available to a lucky few. It's a skillset that requires the same ongoing development as technical skills.

The problem is finding a model that works.  Sales training is well-developed and widespread. It teaches people to have more predictable influence in predictable situations. It works well when people can know their products and their markets. It works less well when markets and products are in transition.

Leadership training is supposed to train people to exert influence in situations where both outcomes and contexts are less predictable.  Our education system is designed to communicate extremely predictable, reliable information or theoretical information. The classroom is not a place to learn how to handle people. Yet since it is the whole of educational experience for many people, it is the model that comes to mind for training leaders.

The other model available seems to be experience.  Leaders are made and not born, goes this model, but they are made by their experiences, not by intention.  There are two things wrong with this model. The first is that experience without attention produces random results.  We end up believing we did the right things when we get the right results.  This is not true much of the time (we can get the right results because of many other forces in the situation). The other problem with this model is that it only works on a "close enough" basis.  What we learn from one situation will never fit another situation exactly. It will always be an approximation.

When people say that influence cannot be trained, they mean it cannot be trained by conventional classroom methods and it cannot be trained by experience.  That's far from an understanding of how people learn and far from the full range of possibilities.  The better question is not can this be trained but how can it be trained?  And the answer must begin with finding out how people get better at influence. What changes in themselves, their behaviours, and the world around them as people develop deeper, wider, more sustainable influences?

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