Why Leadership Training Fails and How to Overcome This

15 mins

Discover the secret to successful leadership training, overcome common failures and realise your managers' potential with this guide from Pareto.

According to research published by LinkedIn, 68% of corporate executives consider training the most important sales enablement tool in their arsenal. Why, then, does leadership training so often fail to deliver an ROI, and what can organisations do to overcome this? 

In this guide, we’ll explore what this form of training is, asking if it differs from sales manager training—and if so, why—before discussing the most common reasons leadership training fails. 

From poor engagement to an inability to meet current-day leadership demands, we’ll address how these impact your ability to impart knowledge and motivate professional development, and our final section will provide you with the solutions you need to ensure your training programme is a success.

What is Leadership Training?

When it comes to team-leading skills, leadership training is the way that organisations ensure that their staff are effective and well-rounded in their supervisory roles. At this level, strategic, long-term decision-making comes into play—and training ensures that they develop the competencies to develop the staff they’re responsible for, manage projects, and achieve organisational goals. 

The shift from sales representative to sales leader is often one that is underestimated due to the vastly different skill set required. As a result, businesses must ensure that their staff are provided with the professional development and learning opportunities required to offer early-career and low-level staff the coaching and mentorship they need to realise their potential. 

Despite how crucial this all sounds, only around half of organisations are providing their staff with effective and ongoing sales training in the UK. With many people in the industry promoted into these roles due to their sales excellence, it’s likely that many lack the team leader skills necessary to achieve their ambitions. Meanwhile, for the other half of organisations that provide training, only around 9% will see true changes in attitude and skill when providing sales manager or leadership training. 

It’s clear that training can be impactful if it’s delivered correctly. But before we get into how to ensure that staff are motivated and engaged with their continuous professional development, we need to define the topic at hand in some more detail. 

Does Sales Manager Training Differ from Leadership Training?

Although they’re often used interchangeably, leadership and sales manager training do differ—though they don’t compete. Instead, both serve to offer a comprehensive, 360-degree learning opportunity for all staff, from entry-level starters to team leaders, directors, and executives. 

Where leadership training could be considered to focus on soft skills, ensuring that staff in senior positions are prepared to offer the visionary direction that their reports need to achieve their best work, sales manager training instead aims to hone the technical skills that will drive operational efficiencies, performance, and administration. In short, both are crucial to producing a successful, pragmatic, and valuable leader. 

Leadership training aims to encourage staff to challenge the status quo within their organisations and bring about change through innovation, whilst sales manager training will help them juggle the multiple responsibilities and scheduling demands they will encounter when delegating tasks and attempting to achieve targets

Both forms are offered via virtual and in-person opportunities for sales training in the UK, ensuring that employees have a range of resources and venues in which to understand the techniques and methodologies that will enable them to execute a plan and inspire the individuals in their teams. 

Why are Sales Manager Training and Leadership Training Crucial?

Leadership and sales manager training are vital to business success when it comes to facilitating and driving a high-performance culture. From building brand loyalty amongst customers to simply improving team-leading skills to ensure your employees can effectively manage their workloads, these training interventions provide a broad range of benefits. These include:

  • Revenue generation. The lifeblood of your business, training can help to enhance your ability to generate revenue by ensuring that your front-line representatives, account managers, and other staff are supported to overcome obstacles and develop their ability to connect with customers and prospects.

  • Talent acquisition and retention. When 82% of employees report that they’d quit a role due to poor management, it’s clear that one of the keys to high levels of talent retention—and an effective employee value proposition for those who are considering your company—is effective leadership and sales manager training. 

  • Inspiration and engagement. Leadership training programmes can enable your staff to develop the communication and motivational skills to give real purpose to their teams, inspiring them to buy into the greater vision of your organisation. This ultimately enhances morale and produces ripple effects which can create a more positive internal culture.

Sales manager training ensures that your senior staff can build effective relationships with internal and external stakeholders, enabling them to inspire their teams to outsell the competition and think strategically to make certain colleagues within your business have the resources and knowledge necessary to succeed. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of leadership and sales manager training, see our recent guide on the topic of Why Leadership Training is Important for a deep dive into the significant, positive impact the tools and techniques delivered in these coaching sessions can have.

Why Does Leadership Training Fail?

From a lack of clear objectives to overlooking the context that you deliver training within, leadership coaching and mentorship are often doomed to failure if you don’t properly prepare. 

In this section, we’ll go over the most common reasons why leadership training is unsuccessful in the modern, sales-focused workplace. 

1. Poor Engagement and No Follow-Up

All too often found hiding behind unsuccessful training, the creation of unengaging coaching sessions is unlikely to result in anything other than boredom for trainees—and definitely won’t aid knowledge acquisition or behavioural change. 

Almost three-quarters of employees highlight that learning new skills and retraining for their roles is important to them. They should be catered to through the delivery of sales manager training that is interesting, dynamic, and utilises the latest in best practices to ensure they come to possess the team leader skills necessary to drive organisational success and high performance. 

Likewise, you can’t hope to have training stick without plans to follow up with staff to make certain they’re putting what they’ve studied into practice. Professional learning and development is a continuous, ongoing process—and organisations ignore this at their own peril.

2. Relevancy: One Size Does Not Fit All

If your training is not relevant to the role and responsibilities that your managers and leaders face on a daily basis, it’s unlikely to be effective. Truly impactful training requires you to ensure attendees realise its value immediately and understand how they can apply what they’ve learned to the tasks they’ll have to complete when they return to their regular desks. 

At the same time, irrelevant learning and development resources are a drain on resources. 

Globally, the average organisation spends around £800 to £3,000 on leadership development per person, annually—with 8% of businesses spending over £8,000 each year. Unfortunately, their plans of growing a talent pipeline for succession purposes and retaining high-potential staff could become an opportunity for financial waste if they do not ensure they provide employees with focused, contextual corporate education experiences.

3. Failure to Define Clear, Measurable, Hard KPIs

You can’t hope to measure the effectiveness of your leadership training interventions if you don’t set hard KPIs with which to evaluate the impact you’re having. 

As a result, if your training is failing to connect with senior staff for some reason, you won’t be able to identify it as a bottleneck and put in the necessary work to solve the issue. 

Likewise, if you’re looking to track the return on investment from your training interventions—and they can be lucrative—you’ll need KPIs and metrics in place to assess how much of an effect you’re having on your bottom line.

4. Not Assessing Staff for Leadership Potential

Well before you consider sales manager training, you need to be certain that the staff that are making it to leadership positions are doing so due to possessing the competencies and abilities that will benefit that role. 

Within sales-focused environments, it’s often expected that your representatives will be rewarded through promotion, but high performance in front-line roles doesn’t necessarily entail that they’ll have management potential. Instead of pushing people into roles that aren’t correct for them, it’s important to assess your staff to understand which ones will be the best to develop their colleagues and act as catalysts for their high performance. 

Likewise, those representatives who have gotten used to working relatively independently may struggle with the transition into a management role, where they’ll be responsible for the success of their entire team. It’s likely that these candidates won’t engage with the education in soft skills that comes with the typical leadership lessons that come with sales training in the UK and beyond.

5. An Inability to Meet Current-Day Leadership Demands

The team leader skills needed for success in modern-day roles within sales-focused environments are very different from what they were even five years ago. 

The increasing digitisation of the workplace, a growing number of Millennials and Gen Zs making their way into employment, and uncertain market dynamics mean that leaders in 2023 need to possess a new, broad range of abilities to succeed. 

If you’re noticing that your leaders aren’t incorporating what they’ve learned into their working practices, consider that what they’re covering in their studies, workshops, and online lessons may be irrelevant to the realities of their role. 

You’ll often find that you’re presenting candidates and existing employees with a strong reason to choose to work for your organisation over a competitor by training them in the team-leading skills they'll need for long-term career success. Almost all employees—94%—that were surveyed by consultancy and auditing firm Clear Company highlight that they remain loyal to businesses for much longer if they invest in their professional development and career mobility.

How to Overcome Failure and Enhance Team-Leading Skills

Overcoming failure and enhancing the team leader skills you need to drive your workforce—and profitability—forward means that your senior staff need to recognise the difference between selling and leading. A thriving sales environment is one in which ambitious and talented representatives feel supported in carrying out their duties and overcoming roadblocks that hinder their performance.

In this section, we’ll look at how you can resolve the five issues that lead to ineffective training we previously covered, highlighting a few practical tips and offering advice that can give your people the confidence to lead and manage successfully. 

1. Creating Engaging Leadership Training Programmes

Fundamentally, ensuring that your sales manager training and leadership coaching are engaging will be the first hurdle to overcome when looking to prevent the failure of your learning and development interventions. 

As a result, you need to be making certain that you’re following the best practices from the industry, which have seen tried-and-tested success. 

Instead of dry, book-based learning, consider involving all senior staff in training, which will enable you to leverage techniques such as role-playing or other scenario-based learning methods to respond to the unique challenges they face on a daily basis. 

Likewise, if you’re committing days upon days to simply studying sales leadership, it’s likely that your training isn’t as engaging as it could be. As an influential 2009 study by David Cornish and Dianne Dukette found, adult learners can only sustain rigorous attention for around 20 minutes at a time—meaning that if you’re spending hours each day in the training room, you’re losing people. 

Instead, incorporate micro-learning and digital training resources to break up the more studious sections of professional learning and development. This not only enhances knowledge retention, but can also be a great way to gamify the learning process, further driving engagement and motivation. Various platforms exist to aid in this, enabling you to create quizzes and other interactive multimedia to gauge how effective training is, and keep the skills and techniques you’re covering fresh in the mind of your senior staff.

2. Ensuring that All Content is Relevant

To ensure all content is relevant, you can carry out a training needs analysis. This will allow you to understand not only the needs of your management staff, but also enable you to see where the skill gaps are in your organisation—and uncover a training methodology that will help to bridge them. 

Once you’ve fully gauged the resources that your leadership team needs to complete their roles effectively, you can take advantage of sales management training to make certain that the training and any additional materials or funding are in place to help them succeed in their roles. 

3.Defining Metrics to Evaluate Success

When it comes to finding KPIs that will allow you to track the success of your leadership training intervention, it’s likely that you’ll need to consider the objectives you’re aiming to achieve to truly illustrate return on investment. 

There are a handful of KPIs we can suggest keeping track of, however. These include: 

  • Sales conversion. Understanding whether you’ve witnessed an increase—or decrease—in conversions subsequent to any training delivered can help you to see whether the content being covered is relevant to the challenges your leaders face.

  • Customer satisfaction. An increase in customer satisfaction and loyalty, or a reduction in the number of complaints—or length of complaints—can signal that training is having an impact.

  • Individual performance. Monitoring and tracking the individual sales performance of the direct reports under your management staff can help you to evaluate how effective leadership training has been, and whether there are other techniques you can offer to staff to ensure that representatives have the support they need to hit their targets.

  • Employee satisfaction. As we’ve already mentioned, many employees are willing to leave a company over poor management. Tracking employee satisfaction before, during, and after sales management training has been delivered can help you understand whether your leaders have the ability to retain, develop, and champion your talent.

  • Training completion rate. Of course, one of the more clear metrics to keep track of when we’re discussing leadership and sales management training—but assessing how many managers and senior staff complete training can help you refine your offering and ensure that you’re fostering an engaging and exciting learning and development culture.

It’s important that the process of evaluating your leadership and management training is continuously carried out and involves staff as much as possible. Earning their buy-in by showing them how the material covered meets their needs—as well as enabling them to support business objectives—can go a long way to ensuring the success of any learning and development initiatives.

4. Properly Assessing Staff for Leadership and Management Potential

Whether you utilise personality tests, interviews, leadership style assessments, or performance evaluations, it’s important that your management staff regularly meet with their managers to reflect on the work they’ve completed, any issues they’ve faced, and their career trajectory and goals. 

By ensuring that the staff that make it into your leadership positions have a true desire to see their direct reports succeed and achieve their goals, you’ll have the confidence to know that training interventions are being delivered to those who have a true desire to improve. 

Likewise, your leadership staff should have as many opportunities as staff in lower rungs of the organisation to continue to develop their technical and soft skills. Don’t just offer them leadership training, but support their desire to innovate in all areas of their duties. 

If, for instance, they believe that leveraging data analysis would help with an aspect of their management responsibilities, enroll them on a course—a growth in their ability is a boon for your business, after all.

5. Keeping Up-to-Date with Current Leadership Demands

Ensuring that leadership training efforts aren’t doomed to failure ultimately requires you to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the world of management. 

At the company leadership and executive team level, it can be all too easy to wrap oneself up in long-term strategy or attempting to achieve the vision of your founder or CEO, but it’s crucial to stay up-to-date with the current trends in management for your sector to ensure that your training is reflecting “what good looks like” for the industry as a whole. 

Various publications, conferences, and virtual events exist to stay abreast of the latest sales leadership techniques, but what’s really vital is to never rest on your laurels. Continuously evaluate and update your leadership and sales management training programmes to ensure they remain relevant and can accommodate the shifting demands of staff as they make their way through the ranks of your workforce.

Training doesn’t have to be doomed to failure—especially if you follow the tips outlined above and throughout the rest of this guide. When it works well, it really can have a significant impact, and it doesn’t just need to be focused on senior staff, either. 

As research conducted by DDI and the Conference Board highlights, organisations that leverage leadership training at all levels of seniority within their business are around 4.2 times more likely to outperform their competitors that fail to do this. Leadership and sales management training can truly provide a return on investment for all employees, so it’s vital to get it right and engage learners.

What Have We Learned About Leadership and Sales Manager Training?

Leadership training is crucial in fostering successful, high-performing, and competitive organisations. Sales training in the UK and beyond has regularly highlighted its importance, but despite this, many businesses continue to fall into the same common pitfalls that lead to ineffective and unengaging interventions which fail to change the way that staff work and behave. 

There are actionable steps to overcome these challenges and enhance your managers’ team-leading skills, however. By focusing on creating engaging training programmes, ensuring the relevance of content, defining measurable KPIs, assessing your staff for leadership potential, and staying up-to-date with the latest leadership trends in your sector or industry, you can maximise the impact of your efforts and interventions. 

When executed well, this form of training benefits not only senior staff, but colleagues at all levels of an organisation, contributing towards a more productive, engaged, and competitive workforce. Embracing these principles can lead to significant returns on investment and, ultimately, a more prosperous future for businesses and their employees.

Experts in Leadership Training and Sales Training in the UK and Beyond

At Pareto, our team of specialist training facilitators has been championing bespoke leadership training solutions and sales training in the UK and beyond for over 25 years. We help tomorrow’s managers and executives to realise their potential and achieve their long-term ambitions. 

If you’d like to learn more, contact us today to speak to one of our consultants and discover how our sales manager training can benefit your organisation. 

Looking to strengthen your Business?

Let's Talk