The Hidden Costs of DIY Leadership Training

by | Dec 9, 2021

When resources are limited and uncertainty abounds, clients want to work with organizations they trust. Now, more than ever, your technical managers need enhanced interpersonal skills so that you are the trusted company with whom clients want to work. After all, there are plenty of engineering companies with highly-skilled technical staff, but few have high-functioning communicators who can relate to clients, listen with empathy, speak succinctly, and make clients feel understood. Rather than relying on DIY leadership training, empower your managers by investing in the soft skills your clients demand.

The DIY Leadership Training Checklist

If you already have a professional development program, use this checklist to assess how it’s working for you:

  • Is your professional development program designed specifically to meet your goals with engaging and interactive material?
  • Does it use science-based content to transform touch-feely interpersonal issues into practical, logical technique?
  • Does it convert number-crunching engineers into high-functioning communicators who write and speak like pros?
  • Is the program designed to use neuroscientific learning principles like engagement, experiential learning and reminders to enhance retention?
  • Is the program designed and conducted by a professional who led an engineering organization rather than someone who just talks about the theory?
  • Is the training leader an engineer AND certified speaking professional™ (CSP) with the skills to maintain participants’ interest through real-life examples rather than a series of lectures and slides?
  • Do you see tangible results that lead to practical, real-world applications?

It’s likely that your program isn’t delivering the results you expect — and just as likely that the added work is creating unnecessary tension for your senior staff. Gaining a clear understanding of goals and expectations, and committing your organization to providing the best tools to achieve them, will prove invaluable for the coming year.

3 Reasons DIY Leadership Training is a Bad Business Decision

It seems like a good idea to use your existing senior staff to develop and conduct leadership training for mid-level and up-and-coming engineer managers. After all, you’re already paying them and they have proven themselves with the added responsibility — why not use them to train others?

Sure, they may be proven leaders but are they proven educators? Are they trained in designing content to achieve specific behavioral goals? Are they skilled in creating a program that is engaging, memorable and “sticky”? Do they have time to provide follow-up and course-correction?

Interviews with dozens of senior leaders shows that most companies (if they provide leadership training at all) use training developed and delivered by their own staff. While it seems fine on the surface, it’s a bad business decision with hidden costs. Here’s why:

The cost of time invested in the participants.

The time spent at the training program by attendees is pure overhead. There are no billable hours for the participants or in-house instructors. Nor are the attendees doing business development or client relationship development. What is the cost of their time alone? Go ahead. Add it up. It’s big. 

Now, add in the lost opportunity costs. You need the time spent in this program to be high impact with high retention and real-world application.

The opportunity costs of the instructors.

You likely have senior staff with deep experience in the company conducting the training. These are some of your highest paid people. Instead of focusing on business development, client relationship management and billing out their time, they are pulling together a training program that isn’t part of their core job, creating materials and taking time from their day to conduct the training. 

Better for these talented, experienced people to inform the leadership program development using their years of experience and familiarity with the organization. With a smaller outlay of their time in training development, you keep them focused on the work that pays the bills.

The quality of the material.

Your senior people are skilled leaders but are they effective trainers? Do they have the time available to create a thoughtful, impactful, and memorable development experience? More likely they are pulling together word-filled slides in their spare moments or dusting off their session from last year. 

It takes a lot of dedicated, uninterrupted time to craft a program designed for lasting behavior change. A quality program worthy of the investment in your staff deserves a pro who knows how to create and deliver training that matters. Afterall, you wouldn’t use a geotech engineer to do hydraulic design. Use the right professional for the right job.

3 Easy Ways to Empower Your Managers

Instead of relying on mis-matched slide deck presented over stale muffins, use these tips to improve engagement throughout your organization:

Separate business process training from leadership development.

Use your in-house staff to provide business process training including everything from filling out the time sheets to writing a proposal in your style. Your managers know these issues better than anyone. It’s important information that suits them perfectly.

Use a leadership development expert for management development.

A skilled outside person will talk to your senior staff to gain perspective on your unique needs. They then bring objectivity, experience and skill to the leadership development program.

Ask specific questions to get the right person.

It pays to be picky. There are lots of people who provide leadership development. You don’t want just anyone — a demonstrated leader who crafts a learning experience with clear, captivating delivery is a must. Remember to ask about follow-up as well. Applied learning is not a one-and-done session; it requires repetition and practice that must be built into the program from the beginning.

At the end of the day, for the money and opportunity costs you incur with professional development time, you can’t afford to waste it. Separate business development from leadership development. Get the professional support you, your staff and your clients deserve for future leaders. 

Start your 2022 leadership development with the best tools. Schedule a FREE planning call with Shelley Row today.


Author Byline: Founder and CEO of Blue Fjord Leaders, Shelley Row P.E. CSP, was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the top 100 leadership speakers. Professional engineer and former senior executive, she was recognized as one of the best minds in advanced traffic management systems.

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