Training Phobia: How Shortsighted Managers Let their Fears Limit Innovation

Scot Adams on fear of courageous followership

Scot Adams on fear of courageous followership

Ironically, some leadership trainings can produce bad management. If a leader learns that his authentic values are the core of good vision for the company, and doesn’t examine his values or have the courage to challenge himself, the result just might be this Dilbert cartoon!

Arguably, bad leadership and bad management go hand in hand, so in the 3-D world of business, this cartoon view actually reflects the failure of leaders at the top of an organization to support a healthy culture, including a budget for appropriate trainings.

And the little bald man is right, “They don’t have a class to fix that.” Of course, he’s talking in the comic strip about the young IT tech’s failure to understand that raising his hand made him a courageous follower — and immediately unemployed. But his comment also reflects the depth of the boss’ failure — a shortsightedness that no one class can really repair.

The heart of the problem is this: a curriculum that truly teaches leaders to understand how to improve their corporate culture involves longterm training, ethnographic observation and analysis of the culture in action, and total buy-in by corporate leaders. It’s an investment far beyond the important technology trainings that ensure successful competition and smooth user function. It’s an investment in sustainable leadership.

Sustainable leadership requires the courage to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a particular corporate culture, and the willingness to negotiate real change to build better community, stronger accountability systems, and clear chains of responsibility and response. In the end, a leader’s values, authenticity, service and presence are only as effective as the system they support.

I love Scot Adams’ work because he breaks it down to the core experience of corporate dysfunction. In this case, the crappy corporate culture is reflected in the failure, not of management, but of the naive employee, who makes the foolish mistake of telling the truth. Dilbert’s company, satirically dismal, shows us business leadership and followership at its worst.

But Dilbert’s dystopia is  a great jumping off point, because it’s immediately clear that the result of the “devil-haired” boss’ training phobia will be tech breakdown, cutting off any possibility of productive work days, therefore hobbling innovation and competition.

The good thing is that in the real world,  there is a curriculum to repair wounded systems, and create sustainable leadership/followership practices, as long as the oppression isn’t intentional. It only requires leaders at the top of a system to understand that a weekend retreat is not enough to solve a cultural problem. Once we cross that bridge, it’s possible to create an ongoing, integrated leadership training on all levels of an organization — one that is well worth the initial investment, because the fiscal and social rewards down the line will be priceless.

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