May 2017 – BUYER BEWARE

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Leadership Courses Aren’t All the Same

It seems that society has become quite enamored with the idea of leadership in recent years. The last time I did a Google search of the term “leadership” I came up with about 700 million results, which included books, blogs, videos, lectures, college programs and other websites.  We’re so inundated with leadership information we usually don’t know what to believe when we hear ideas and suggestions from so-called leadership “experts.”

Billions of dollars are spent every year worldwide on leadership training, but many businesses seem to stay the same, or become worse. If nothing actually changes in the workplace after a leader takes a leadership training program, how effective can you say the training actually was?

You may ask why this is important. The honest answer is because leadership training is now mandated for senior crew in the marine industry. Leadership instructors owe it to their students to offer information that is useful and can be put into practice in the workplace. In order for a marine school to bring lasting, effective change to the seafarers who must now take leadership training, instructors have to be equipped with the foundational knowledge that participants need.  

The challenge for students is that there are many places to get training, so how do you choose? Look for programs that will enhance and supplement your skills and help you propel your career forward. These types of classes will usually involve a great deal of self-awareness exercises as well as hands on activities.

Leadership training is not just about reading rules and regulations from a textbook. Students should expect to walk away with actual leadership knowledge and practical tools for implementation, not suffer through an ineffective week long course thereby wasting their time and money.

A school that simply throws together the components required by the IMO for leadership training really offers nothing of substance.  To effect real change, an instructor must provide students with tools that can be useful away from the safe setting of the classroom. Without the means to implement what students have learned, course material can be easily forgotten and rendered useless.

The reason to consider this topic today is that leadership training isn’t the same as training someone how to read a chart or use a radar. There are no hard and fast rules in leadership like there are with these other skills. Context is the foundation to leadership training, which means that what worked in one situation may not work in another. Good leadership instructors will be able to provide insight for students to take away. A training school that sets up a leadership program without the understanding of context does their students a disservice in the long run.

Because of the worldwide explosion of companies offering leadership training, students should ask questions about what qualifies someone as a leadership instructor. Just because someone has a title, like captain or chief engineer for example, and has been working in their position for many years, they shouldn’t be considered a “leadership expert” unless they have the foundational knowledge to back it up.   

In the late 1800's and early 1900's almost anyone could say they were a doctor. The barriers to enter the medical field were almost nonexistent. Over time, the profession became more legitimate and required increased knowledge and expertise for practitioners. Doctors today require 8 years of schooling and up to 7 years of residency before they can be considered a full medical professional.

Similarly, the leadership industry today is in the same place the medical profession was centuries ago. Almost anyone can say they’re a leadership “expert.” Instructors range from good looking, charismatic people who energize their audiences by telling feel good stories to those who have PhD's and have spent years researching the topic of leadership. 

An effective instructor’s knowledge is based upon the underlying foundations of social science, which includes, but isn’t limited to: psychology, sociology, cognitive science, political science and many others. Leadership training isn’t just about the use of anecdotes or sharing empowering stories.

The Takeaway

There are many places that offer leadership certification for marine licenses. Choose the company that provides you with the highest potential of reaching your personal and professional development goals. Only when students demand the highest level of training will schools be required to meet that expectation.

Whether you’re required to take a course to keep your license current or you want to enhance your skills, look for instructors who have practical experience as well as the academic knowledge based on the social science of leadership.

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