There is a carcass of a leopard near the summit. No one could explain what the leopard was seeking at that altitude. The Snows of Kilimanjaro, a movie based on a short story by Ernest Hemmingway, starts with this question.

Not unlike the leopard that lost the scent of prey and took a wrong turn that led to its demise, today’s leaders have little room for error as they navigate their organizations through choppy waters of globalization, downturn and uber-competitive markets. As someone with the ultimate responsibility of guiding the team in the right direction, a leader cannot allow any of the team members – either through inaction or inappropriate ones – to stray from that path. This responsibility is very real in both a moral and a financial sense. While a good number of organizations realize the need for action and are prepared to invest in developing and training leaders to shoulder the responsibility, few get that the wrong kind of training is far worse than no training at all!

Leadership training is especially hard as its end goal is transformation and not mere change. The trainees undergo an intricate process that starts with personal awareness and includes a tough phase of unlearning. To do this in a wrong way, and that too in an organizational setting, will impact the confidence of the leadership cadre and their ability to guide and influence the rest of the team. Even worse, bad training experiences will create resistance in those trained towards any such interventions in the future. The damage caused to both corporate profitability and employee morale may end up being irreversible.

Every little helps!

Leadership training is much less about knowledge than it is about wisdom. When leadership development programs only involve the transfer of knowledge and not the imparting of wisdom, they run the risk of becoming interesting but altogether irrelevant intellectual exercises.

The best programs involve trainers who themselves have the experience of successfully leading businesses and bring with them that essential piece of perspective. As insiders, they can connect the dots during the training exercises, act as peers and draw upon their own experiences to nudge the people being trained in the right direction.

A lot of us can talk about “truth” just as Mahatma Gandhi did, but can our words hold the same gravitas or influence people towards action in the same way? If the trainers have never gone through the cycle of up and down themselves, it is hard to convincingly carry the message of leadership and help their students learn the craft the right way. This component is missing in most contemporary leadership programs, despite being a critical ingredient in the making of transformational leaders.