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Management Training is not Sports Training

Imagine you’re a sports coach who can only train each of your athletes for 3 days every 6 months, and you have no direct access to any athlete for the rest of the year. Would you train those athletes the same way Phil Jackson trained the Chicago Bulls or the LA Lakers? Or imagine you’re a great schoolteacher, who has just 6 days a year with each class of pupils. Would you use the same approach that even your most inspiring schoolteacher or university professor used?

Sportsmen are usually in competitive action for less than 2 hours a week. The bulk of their time is spent practising, making adjustments, and mastering skills well away from the field of competition. Students are learning full time for months or years, understanding principles and slowly building a foundation before starting a lifetime’s vocations. A typical manager has around 6 days of training each year, and needs to use that training in real life, skillfully, straight away. This is a completely different challenge, and those few training days need to be used really well.

Here are some ways management training can make those precious days of training really count.

  • We focus only on the few things that help us best improve. None of us can absorb more than a handful of new things in a day, and then integrate them into our way of operating. If we try to do more, then we’re drinking from a fire hose; so we need to be wise about choosing the few critical things we learn and practise
  • We learn skills that work well, straight away. Elegant principles and beautiful insights are never the final step. Every beautiful insight needs to be turned into an effective approach that Martha can apply skillfully on Monday
  • We start mastering our new skills well before we leave training. Understanding something is not the same as knowing how to apply it skillfully. We need guided practice, to recognise how to use a new skill well, before we use it in anger
  • We get prompts to improve our expertise in the 98% of our time that we are not in training. This can mean anything from simple practice reminders to incorporating 3 or 4 approaches into a team playbook

We can learn lots of things from great sports coaches and brilliant teachers, but management training is a very different prospect, and in many ways a much more difficult one. We think we’ve got good management training when we can make the absolute most of a handful of days, to help someone get much better, straight away, at skills that really matter.

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