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I’ll never forget my frustration. I spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours working through the videos, conference calls, books, and exercises for my coaching and leadership certification program. To earn the certification, trainees had to attend a conference where the trainers would “test your knowledge and skill.” If you passed, you would receive your certification and could coach paying clients. A week before the conference I perused all the material again and went through 10 extra practice coaching sessions. I invested all I had into the program and couldn’t afford to fail.

There were over 500 trainees at the conference. Each person was put in a 10-person cohort with a trainer. I quickly realized I was the only one in my cohort who worked through all the course material. A few people admitted they hadn’t looked at the material in months. Others admitted they didn’t do any practice coaching sessions. Yet, when the conference was over, everyone in my cohort received a coaching and leadership certification.

I left frustrated.

Two years after the conference, I was running 9 leadership training programs and had 21 individual coaching clients. But only one other member of my cohort (who previously had an ICF coaching certification) had paying clients. Although I was using the training and having success, I was frustrated for others. The program had great information and great trainers, but it lacked effectiveness.

Unfortunately, this is common. According to the Harvard Business Review, only 25% of leadership training courses are effective. For context, “effective” is organizational growth in production, employee satisfaction, communication, engagement, retention, profitability, and unity. Most leadership courses offer great information, inspiration, and action steps, and most leaders feel inspired after completing courses. But after a few weeks, they revert to old behavior, and forget most of what the learned. This leaves both CEO’s and Leadership Trainers frustrated. The CEO’s say, “I paid a lot of money for this, where’s my ROI?” And Leadership Trainers respond, “I gave them all the tools for effective leadership, but I can’t do it for them.”

Both are valid frustrations.


Systems run businesses and people run systems. Almost everyone I’ve met in the leadership training industry are good people who authentically want to help people. Most have fantastic material, that if applied, would make a tremendous difference in leaders lives. But, most have bad systems that are passed down from people who trained them with bad systems.

Bad systems equal poor results.

There are 7 elements for successful leadership training programs. Most programs offer only 2 or 3.

If you’re a CEO, HR Director, Leadership Trainer, or Leader, use this as a checklist before you deliver a training program.



Resolve – Leaders must have the resolve to change, grow, and lead others. Without resolve, they will not do the work necessary to become a great leader. It’s a waste of time and money to force a leader into a program they don’t want to be in. They must want to engage and do whatever is necessary to improve.

Rigor – Rigor produces character, which is the foundation of great leadership. If the course doesn’t challenge, push, and stretch the leader, it’s a waste of time and money. A credential must be hard to earn. 95% of programs lack rigor.

Relevance – Courses should be built around the relevance of how it applies in their environment. Most leaders in leadership courses aren’t CEO’s, Presidents, or owners, and do not have final decision-making power. Yet, most leadership courses are built around training people to be better leader as CEO’s, Presidents, and owners. Courses need to have a critical thinking element and exercises to ensure relevance and application.

Relationships –  Courses should encourage and facilitate growth of relationships between members.  Relationships give leaders a chance to look at theories from multiple perspectives. Additionally, if solid relationships are formed, leaders can continue their leadership discourse long after courses are complete. Many courses offer this as one of their key elements, and it’s very valuable.

Longevity – Research shows that lasting change behavior does not happen unless a person goes through at least 6-months of focused habitual change. Leadership Trainers try to mold courses around people’s “busy” lifestyles. So, they create less time intensive programs, but by doing so their programs lose effectiveness.

Frequency – Research shows that one touch per week (combined with the 6-months of longevity) keeps trainees focus on change. This doesn’t mean you need class time each week, but it does mean there needs to be an activity, coaching session, or interaction on the topic. With the advances in technology, it is easy to get distracted or focused on another topic.

Accountability – If the leadership course doesn’t have standards and guidelines, it won’t have accountability. Here are 3 ways courses should hold people accountable

  1. Requirements – If a person does not meet requirements, they do not get a certification for completing the course. This includes attendance, assignments, coaching sessions, and presentations.
  2. Testing – Testing creates accountability for the information being learned. Writing assignments test what a person is learning with less pressure than a formal test.
  3. Demonstration – Leaders need to be able to give presentations, speak clearly, and think logically about leadership theories. Presentation assignments require a person to do all three. And, it helps leaders overcome their fear of public speaking.

These are a few ways of holding people accountable. A course must have accountability to be effective.

The 7 elements must be included if you want lasting change from a leadership training course. If a course does not offer all 7 elements, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad course. It means you will need to cover the elements not covered. Make sure you do your diligence before diving into a program that will leave you frustrated, or gives you a certification just for showing up.

If you’re in the market for leadership training that meets the above criteria, check out our 2018 Dynamic Leadership course here. We’re experienced in offering leadership training that works and transformation that lasts. https://mainstreamleaders.com/dynamic-leadership/ 

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