Learning Leadership Skills is a Waste of Time

If you are questioning whether you have what it takes to be a leader, the last thing you want to do is enroll in a training class. And please don’t read another leadership book thinking that will help. Attempting to become a good leader by just learning leadership skills is a waste of time and money.

Leadership skills cartoon showing dog and disheveled businesswoman, dog says to her, 'I hope you've had as much fun training me as I've had being trained'.I should know, I have been teaching leadership skills for over 30 years.

Trying to learn new skills without changing the way you think about the situation where you will use the skills can be frustrating if not disastrous. The cognitive processing that must occur in order to master complex behavioral skills—which includes all communications and leadership skills—requires you first reflect on your judgments, your values, and your perspective before you attempt to take them on.

Most importantly, you have to feel, not just know, that the skills are vital to your success. How much you value the skills and desire the difference they will make for you will impact your ability to learn them.

Leadership is not a toolkit of skills

Your behavior as a leader is the manifestation of your values. Other people will recognize your values in how you behave. They will then judge your skills based on how they assess your values to be in alignment with what you are saying and doing.

In other words, they know when you are walking your talk.

Additionally, your values will determine how much time you will spend learning and practicing skills, so you won’t get good at skills if they don’t match what you value.

A value is what you hold as significant or useful. It could be a principle you live by or just something you judge as important to your life and work.

In other words, you have to value what a skill will give you before you will set aside the time it takes to be good at it.

If you don’t value sharing laughs and tears with a friend, you probably will have more acquaintances and colleagues than people who look forward to spending an afternoon with you.

If you don’t enjoy how the flow of words can describe a simple object as well as a complex concept, you probably won’t write the book you keep saying is on your list to do.

The same goes for leadership. If you don’t care to spend time with the people on your team to understand their challenges, to give them a safe space to express themselves, and to show you care about them as humans, you might as well skip the leadership classes. Keep blaming the employees for being uninterested, ungrateful, and unwilling to talk to you. A leadership skills class or book will only waste your time.

Effective leadership requires you reflect on your values, regularly

Ask yourself if you truly…

  1. Like people. Too many people are promoted to leadership positions who only like some people. This is not a good place to start.
  2. Want other people to be more successful than you. Too many high achievers are promoted to leadership positions but they like being the superstar. They have trouble giving away their secrets and letting other people shine.
  3. Embrace ambiguity. Too many leaders think they have to be the one who knows what to do and have all the answers no matter what. These leaders become the roadblocks to creativity, productivity, and growth.
  4. Know how to let go. There is a difference between giving up and letting go. If you just give up on trying to help people, they will struggle and resent you. If you let go of trying to control, fix, and push people to doing things your way, you might learn that most people are creative, resourceful, and able to grow if you believe in them, support them and get out of their way.

If you believe or at least want to believe in these four things, you might make a good leader. According to the book, The Leadership Pipeline [1], there are other shifts in thinking and values you will need to make as you climb up the leadership ladder. The higher you go, the more you will need to value how work gets done by groups of people.

Values are not hard and fast. As you change your point of view, your values might shift too. Coaching before, during and after training can help you make the shift. With the right values in place, your attendance at a leadership skills class could give you a great return on your investment.

If you would like to would like to talk about leadership skills training and coaching that includes an exploration of values, please reach out to me at: http://outsmartyourbrain.com/contact/

Marcia Reynolds



email: marcia@outsmartyourbrain.com

Read in interview with Marcia that will help you access and use your emotional intelligence.

[1] Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel, The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company. Jose-Bass, 2010.


  1. Thanks Marcia for succinctly describing my bristling at the obsession we have with leadership. As with any difficulties we face in life, we have to start by focusing on ourselves, leadership included. I especially appreciate the four parts of leadership at the end. I have a colleague that says you can be a leader or the smartest person in the room, but not both.

  2. Powerful points Marcia and truly resonates with my practice. Favorite golden nugget: “Your behavior as a leader is the manifestation of your values.” Thanks for sharing your wisdom and informing our thinking as leaders!

  3. Thank you Marcia for this article.
    It speaks from my heart. I experienced it also in my own life. I was a bad leader for a long time, but I was able to change and realize what I was missing and I worked hard on these.
    With the change I find not only more peace, but more confidence and trust.
    And now, as a coach, also try to convey it to others and help them to visit their attitude, beliefs and behavior.

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