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Leadership Training

Leadership Training for Professionals – Is It Worth It?

Published: November 25, 2022
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How much do you know about leadership training for professionals?

People love to talk about leaders in whatever line of work you’re in – those rare specimens that seem to possess some special, critical x-factor that propels them to success and acclaim. Every Bill Gates and Jack Ma out there seems to have had their management style and experience distilled into ‘leadership traits’ that everyone ought to develop to reach similar heights.

Strong leadership isn’t just about making the scene, of course. Real leaders inspire their staff to achieve as much as they can. Leaders will encourage strengths, work to resolve weaknesses, and steer their companies toward significant long-term gains.

However, as important as it is to lead and inspire, calling leadership a ‘skill’ can be misleading. One could easily argue that it is just one element that falls under the umbrella of ‘management’; a less inspiring concept, to be sure, but a far more realistic one that focuses more on expertise and direction than nebulous aspects of being in charge.

The simple truth is that as important as leadership can be, it is one of many characteristics shared by successful managers. It is also a characteristic that most can develop over time, though not necessarily in ways you might expect!

So, how does ‘corporate leadership’ actually work? How can candidates develop authentic leadership ‘skills’? This article aims to break down the real value of leadership training for professionals.

How does corporate leadership work?

As we mentioned in the introduction, corporate leadership is best described as an aspect of management. There is no shortage of great managers who seem to lack the charisma of a great leader (or supposedly great leaders who have managed their businesses into oblivion!)

So, what does a manager need to have?

  • Expertise within their area of work
  • Knowledge of their offering, clients, and industry
  • Clarity over the roles and responsibilities required to achieve deliverables
  • An ability to align their work with high-level strategic priorities
  • Being able to manage multiple elements simultaneously
  • Familiarity with shared risks and roadblocks
  • Ability to communicate with stakeholders

Crucially, each point requires a certain level of expertise within a particular field. The keys to this level are knowledge and experience rather than generic qualities or skills. Even ‘leaders’ who appear to excel with multiple ventures and industries will have experts they defer to when necessary.

The same applies to different levels of leadership. ‘Managers’ will become leaders of projects, programs, departments, or companies. Still, the general rule will remain the same: As vital as it is to inspire your employees, the best candidates in corporate leadership roles have the expertise to back up their charisma.

Does generic leadership training have value?

As important as expertise is to be an effective manager, that does not mean that domain-specific knowledge is always adequate. This is simply down to the way corporate leadership works. Modern organisations are multidisciplinary, with highly related functions and departments. 

In a business like this, a ‘leader’ requires a top-level perspective of various elements, many of which they will not have personal expertise. For example, a program manager must have a fundamental knowledge of IT services to support strategic goals. However, they would still defer to technical specialists when planning to achieve those goals. 

In other words, domain-specific knowledge will only take you so far after a certain point. But again, this does not prevent leaders from understanding the business beneath them. In short, leaders cannot see the big picture for a company without knowing the company.

That is not to say that generic leadership is useless as a topic of study, however. Leaders from one context can certainly offer valuable expertise to those in another, at least to a certain degree.

Think of how many businesspeople have read and benefited from the insight of historic generals like Sun Tzu or Ghengis Khan. Both were characters who went against traditional warfare ideas and achieved incredible success. What they did worked, and there were plenty of lessons to be learned from their leadership styles. Ghengis Khan was known to promote based on ability, and that’s a viable lesson one can extract from his work. Similarly, he had a vision and drive and was able to inspire his armies – what corporate leader wouldn’t want such an aura to be part of their legacy?

The key in this situation is knowing the difference between corporate and military leaders! Within a corporate sphere, a leader must define what constitutes ability and vision to apply these lessons. Simply put, they would take an aspect of leadership and use it as the foundation for tangible management practices.

Candidates can apply this to anyone they admire or any aspect of leadership they hear about in a webinar, workshop, blog, or anything else. Don’t take leadership at face value; break down the real lesson and figure out how it can be applied within your role.

Describing generic leadership skills, Jennifer Barker and Tom Rees of Ambition Institute said, “Generic skills rely on specific knowledge” and “Knowledge doesn’t transfer easily across domains.”

How can I pursue leadership training?

To develop the skills required for leadership roles, it is essential to emphasise expertise and competence within your area of interest. This is the key to utilising general leadership lessons and will allow you to thrive as you develop the perspective required to take charge and deliver results.

We argue that looking for popular frameworks that correlate with your career path is the best place to start. These will cover the skills, tools, and practices required to take on management positions within this area. 

For example, a candidate hoping to move into project or program management may start by studying PRINCE2. They will understand the processes required to turn visions into actionable projects with well-defined targets, deliverables, and business justification. They can then gain experience applying their expertise until they can contribute to and lead projects with the utmost clarity, reliability, and effectiveness.

Does this mean anyone who finishes a practitioner course can become a leader? Without applying their training in practice, not at all! Successful leaders must also have experience using what they know, adapting set processes when necessary, and learning how the academic side of management meshes with natural business environments. 

However, the great point about studying professional frameworks is that most candidates will learn them on the job. Many will even benefit from having training paid for by their company. This allows candidates to apply what they learn, developing both management skills and more granular knowledge simultaneously. 

Our advice is to take the time to examine the most common certification path and educational backgrounds for ‘leaders’ in your sector. Once you realise they are highly adept managers, the way to follow in their footsteps will become much more apparent to you.

Is leadership training for professionals worthwhile?

If there is one lesson you take away from this article, it should not be that professional leadership training is worthless. In many cases, it can be the key to outside-the-box thinking and helping to define one’s growth path. However, when it comes to being an effective corporate leader, the most critical question is what kind of leader you want to be.

Think of your ideal future leadership position and ask:

  • What is the specific role?
  • What is the focus?
  • What is the marketplace?
  • What responsibilities does it involve?
  • What expertise does it require?
  • What qualifications do leaders in this space pursue?
  • How is the marketplace/industry developing?

Looking at some of the higher-level positions within your chosen career path is an excellent starting point. You can often find practitioners on websites like LinkedIn and Quora who are happy to answer questions and a wealth of articles and videos covering both generic and specialist leadership qualities. As we said, studying well-established frameworks can be a great way to learn the skills you’ll need in more managerial roles, though this is not an absolute requirement. As you understand your niche, you will understand how leadership can be applied within that context.

Once you have this level of expertise, more generic corporate leadership training and materials can offer much more value – simply because you can distil the information into its most appropriate form.

As much as we might admire leaders, ‘leadership’ as a generic term is virtually useless once you start applying it in practice. If you seek to become a corporate leader who can step into any role with the same success, charisma, and grace as any other, we’ll make the answer easy for you – keep dreaming!