According to a Zen proverb, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” For self-actualization, this rings true. For corporate leaders in training organizations, not so much. Or can it?

Generally, when students are ready, it’s because they recognize that their current habits are not fostering the results they want, and they are ready to change. In a corporate setting, the first hurdle to mount is, in fact, that first realization. In corporate leadership, it’s practically criminalized to admit you don’t know something. To admit you’re not an effective leader, as a whole or in a specific task or sector, is a sign of weakness.

When leadership trainers enter a room to begin any form of leadership training, we have to understand that much of the content we’re teaching will simply not be received. It’s inherent in the DNA of leaders to reject the teachings of others, and to admit their own habits are flawed is almost impossible. We estimate that in these training scenarios, perhaps 20 percent of what we teach is actually implemented outside of the classroom.

I’m not referring to regular training. Ninety percent of training is on a new skill that’s technical in nature and nonthreatening; the answer to trainees’ “What’s in it for me?” is simple and straightforward. What I am referring to is that other 10 percent of training that relates not to technical knowledge but the more intangible skills of leadership and communication. When they ask, “What’s in it for me?”, the answer is less obvious, and they often reject the training as a result. In the end, they’re a less effective leader and influencer in their own right because of that rejection.

There are, however, ways to prepare learners to actually accept and implement training. It’s up to us as trainers to prepare our students for the lessons we want to give them. So, how do you create an environment that fosters exponential growth in leaders who might or might not agree with your material?

Step one is to establish context. It’s so important to communicate with these leaders about what the training is and why it’s both valuable and justifiable. Be sure to answer these questions: What are we working on? Why are we here? How long is this going to take? What is in it for me?

We’ve all been in these training scenarios, whether as a new hire during orientation or an introduction to a new position, and we can all recognize how frustrating it was when the trainer arrived and launched into his or her spiel before offering any context. It’s likely that you immediately lost interest and spent the duration of the training avidly ignoring the trainer.

Effective trainers understand how important it is to establish this baseline of understanding before we launch into the training itself. We can no longer train employees like school teachers teach. Young students are willing sponges; adults are stubborn, closed-off curmudgeons. Your first priority as a trainer is to subtly present the “why” of the training. You have to convince them that the training is worthwhile, because that willingness to learn is not inherent to them. Our methodology has to change in order for adults to have their own “aha” moments. Once that baseline is established, they can relax into the training; they’re ready to see what’s next.

Establish the context of the training, answer their questions, dispel their hesitations and hang-ups – and then the actions that come next will be true training, rather than just meaningless words that fall on intentionally deaf ears. In order to train adults, you have to first train them to want to be trained.

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