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....and many other thoughts about facilitation, coaching ( teams & individuals) and learning


  • David

French and Leadership – The limitation of traditional classroom training

Updated: Mar 25, 2022


Some thoughts came to my mind when I was attending my French class earlier this week. (Yes, apparently, I was not an attentive student to French!!)

During the class, the teacher played some recording. We listened and tried to understand. He corrected our mistakes and then also introduced some grammar points. We then practiced some more and got corrected. This lecture-practice-correct loop (in whatever order) seems to me a rather typical classroom training scene. In the corporate world, similar things happen in the training rooms.

Some argue that such notion of training in the corporate world was naturally borrowed from schools and / or military training. It worked there and thus it might work here. If I were the first few people in the business history asked by the CEO to help people learn, I would probably adopt what I experienced before i.e. classroom training. After all, the CEO has experienced the same and thus would likely agree with my proposal.

It probably worked well in the beginning. I imagine the first few training topics in an organisation are technical in nature e.g. how to operate a machine, how to process a loan application. For topics like these, there exist THE right answers (may be more than one). We can thus tell the learners some theories or models and correct their practices / exercises.

But problems arose when we extend such lecture-practice-correct loop into topics without THE right answers e.g. Leadership. (Of course, it depends what one means by Leadership / Leadership Development. I talked about it in earlier blogs – ‘Really, what is leadership?’ and ‘Leadership Development’. We use this term to mean a lot of things. If it means ‘how to use the performance review system’, there is THE right answers. But if it means ‘how to lead better’, there is NO right answer.)

In the latter version of ‘Leadership’, any response to the question depends on the situation, the one who wants to lead, the ones whom to be led, etc. There is no correct answer. In the language of Cynefin Framework, the technical topics being to SIMPLE or COMPLICATED domain, whilst the latter version of leadership beings to the COMPLEX domain.

Apparently, the lecture-practice-correct loop would not work here. Any lecture can at best be inputs for individual experiments. It would be demotivating and frustrating (to the learners and the organisation) to take any lecture as the Holy Grail. More, without THE right answer, any attempt to correct would be in vain.

Yet, from what I have experienced so far, we are still largely ‘conditioned’ by the lecture-practice-correct, no matter what the underlying topics are. This probably adds to the list made by Mckinsey on ‘Why Leadership Development Programs Fail’. In short, we are helping others learn leadership like the way we do French. C’est bizarre!

(You may ask ‘So what then?’. See my thought on earlier blog posts like ARL and ‘Forget about Training’)

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