February 28, 2007
Your Tax Dollars at Work

This appalls but doesn't surprise me.

I have to wonder what goes on in the heads of the managers who sign off on crap like this -- and not just those who are responsible for setting up such programs, but those who inflict them on their subordinates. Do they really expect the attendees to gain any useful leadership development from the hippy-dippy feel-good seminars taught by these folks?

Having been through the LM Engineering Leadership Development Program, I know what this stuff is like. Indeed, one instructor on this list appeared at an ELDP conference -- and didn't much appreciate it when I pointed out what a pile of manure her material was. In a nutshell, we were asked a week before the conference to complete one of those personality surveys via her company's website. The survey form bore a big notice telling us that we should answer honestly, and that there were no right or wrong answers...but when I got to the end and submitted the form, the website refused to accept it, telling me that my responses were inconsistent and that I needed to review them and resubmit it. So I made one or two changes and resubmitted. And got the same rejection. After several tries, I got fed up and went through the whole survey again, choosing the responses that sounded the most touchy-feely and the most like what I figured these folks wanted to hear from me. Presto! It accepted the form.

When I got to the conference, however, I was pulled aside at registration and asked to re-do the survey on paper, since there was still something "problematic" with my survey responses. So I did, and this time chose responses completely at random. Once in the class the next day, we were presented with the interpetations of our results -- and after she explained what was in our personalized packages and asked if we had any questions about what they told us about ourselves, I described the trouble I'd had with the survey and asked how any of us could find any value in our personalized results. And yes, I suppose I was rather blunt in my opinion as to the value of the exercise (a comparison to horoscopes was involved). The instructor was not amused...in fact, she snippily told me she wanted to see me after class to discuss it, like an angry schoolmarm scolding a schoolboy. I eagerly anticipated the opportunity, but disappointingly, she failed to show up at the appointed time and place.

What grates on me about these sorts of programs is that by and large, the instructors are not themselves leaders, but are instead coaches or facilitators or learning encouragers or the bearers of some other passive title suggesting a specialization which is long on nurture but short on substance. Indeed, one of my coworkers speculated after attending these seminars that it was all a racket peddled to gullible executives, and that we might ourselves do well to quit LM and form our own "leadership seminar consultancy" -- with no apparent oversight as to the actual merits of the courses, he reasoned, it would only require the tiniest talent in flim-flammery and a familiarity with the buzzwords to rake in a share of the great gobs of cash that flow into these programs. Knowing nothing useful about the subject didn't appear to be a handicap, but I wasn't much interested in changing careers at the time.

On the other hand, the Leadership Program of the Rockies is exactly the sort of leadership development program I would expect a company (or NASA) to put together if they were serious about training up future leaders. The structure of ELDP was a mix of technical and leadership training, but LPR actually delivers on both. No emotional inventories, no personality self-assessments, no interpretive dance or yoga or group hugs or trust falls...instead, where leadership training was concerned, we actually read profiles on great leaders, and studied case histories of how they responded to crises and challenges, and examined what traits in fact made them great leaders.

It's a shame that executives can be bamboozled into funding useless training which appeals to the heart and the corporate fads of the moment, when they really should be providing courses which challenge the intellect and provide role models for those they would have lead their organizations the future.

Posted by T.L. James on February 28, 2007 08:27 PM | TrackBack


This tripe is SO reminiscent of my experiences in high tech engineering. I don't know what happens to the suits such that they become so disconnected from those who actually DO anything that they come up with New Age claptrap like this to improve productivity or for team building. Look at the resumes of all the speakers. What constructive act has any one of them ever done for a company that produces a working product? None.

Posted by: philw at March 1, 2007 04:52 PM

Great link. My favorite part is when he tosses "The Center for Victims of Torture" into a list of otherwise significant clients.

Posted by: Aaron_J at March 1, 2007 08:58 PM

Participating in these leadership training programs is entirely voluntary and I believe offers new possibilities which were certainly not available to people 20+ years ago or so.
If you do not like the choice of the coaches, trainers, etc..., you can always go back to learn by doing, become yourself a leader in your workplace via your accomplishments, positive can-do attitude, technical competence, etc... and in 10+ years may be you will be invited to be one of the speakers/trainers at one of these programs setup for starting engineers. Just a thought....
Good luck for your career anyway.
A "grey bear" engineer

Posted by: E. Schmitz at March 10, 2007 05:59 AM

It's not training that I object to, it's the content of the training. I highlighted the difference between ELDP and LPR, as an illustration of bad vs. good content.

And even ELDP wasn't all bad. There several technical elements which were useful, such as the project management track that comprised much of our third conference.

What I object to is the oprahfied feel-good feelings-validation hand-holding Kumbayaa-singing pop-psych courses, which serve no purpose that I can see aside from enriching those who conduct them.

Posted by: T.L. James at March 13, 2007 09:15 PM