The Trend of Leader Led Learning

Jim Bolt is the featured author currently in the’s Resource Center with an article called More than MBA’s in which he talks about the trend of leader led learning. He summarizes in part by saying, “remember that like all good ideas, this will become a fad.”

I don’t agree at all, and further, I sure hope he’s wrong.

I’m a huge proponent of leader-led learning, so much so that I have incorporated it into the coaching model we use for Say Leadership Coaching, looking for whatever opportunities we may have to relinquish our training floor to the leaders and executives who hire us.

We firmly believe we are there to supplement what in-house leaders can train their people on themselves, not duplicate it. I frequently advise my customers to aim higher in what they are asking me for when they first engage us, saying outright, “Don’t use your money hiring us for the training you can and should be doing yourself— further, with your insider’s view, you’ll probably be better at it.” If they need help developing an in-house program, we give them that help as part of our coaching.

Said another way: They train, we coach. We coach them to be better managers and leaders by being better trainers, coaches, and mentors themselves.

In his column, Bolt does talk about the combination of Co-teaching with outside faculty:

“There are some topics like finance where it seems to work well to have an outside expert, often from a university, teach key financial concepts and also have the CFO from the company teach the company-specific financial analysis tools, methods that their leaders need to know.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg, and a wealth of more possibilities abound.

In my view, Bolt missed mentioning the biggest benefit of leader led training: for the insight of the leaders themselves. In teaching they further develop their own skills, and they have a different opportunity to get back in touch with the challenges and questions of the up-and-comers they are training.

To train someone else, you have to learn it doubly well yourself first. Further, you have to be able to answer, or engage with, new What if? questions which may arise from the lesson, thus you must benchmark, and engage in your own continual learning. You may be challenged with strategic questions which you hadn’t considered before or experienced yourself, and you may be able to mine new ideas from your own people and create some multi-level synergy dynamics.

Bolt gives five examples of how leaders are getting involved in the training game, and then he summarizes as follows;

“This sounds great, doesn’t it? So what could possibly go wrong? Well, many senior executives are not good teachers by nature so they have to be trained and coached, and then they still might not be good. Another common problem is they might not show up–you know, they’re kind of busy. So you better have a back-up plan. Finally, remember that like all good ideas, this will become a fad. Carried to its extreme (there are already executive development programs taught totally by the organizations own executives, i.e., no outside faculty), it could contribute to becoming insular and arrogant, especially at companies that are really successful and are starting to think they know it all — I mean really, who could we possibly benchmark ourselves against?”

Oh come on. I’m hoping he was attempting to be humorous here… We should be so lucky that we run into this risk of carrying leader-led training “to its extreme.” For me the statement is akin to crying wolf, for we’re not doing in house leader and manager-led training enough in even small doses, much less carrying it to any incestuous extreme.

Second, I give managers and leaders way more credit than this. With just a little bit of coaching, I find that they can be great teachers, and often are, with a world of experience to draw from. And if they aren’t, it’s high time they learned to be, for their mentorship is needed and wanted.

Related posts:
Where’s the Boss?
Teach and get taught, Coach and get coached.


  1. says

    Rosa, I SO agree with you on this one. If a leader can’t teach, then they can’t be a good leader. It’s no more complicated than that. You have exactly the right idea in your practice. Well said!

  2. says

    I think Martin Luther is reported to have said something like; “if you want to learn something, find 25 people to teach it to.”
    Leader led learning is good for everyone.
    Thanks for encouraging this conversation while sharing your vision of leader led learning!

  3. says

    Thank you Starbucker; from what I’ve read on your blog it is clear you invest much of yourself into the mentorship of your staff, and put much thought into doing so. You set a great example for us to follow.
    Welcome to Talking Story Michael and thank you for sharing that quote and your comment; I definitely agree that leader led learning is a win all the way around, and I’m thrilled to have you join your voice here in the encouragement.