Education is more than just completing something

I’m taking a course in organizational behavior this semester, and today’s assignment was to take a position on the question of whether or not leadership training is a waste of money. Most of my classmates have taken the counterpoint position so far; only one person had agreed with the premise by the time I posted my response, which I include here:

In the interest of not having Michael hold up the entire support for the Yes/Point position, and the fact that I’m in a feisty mood today, I’ll agree with the premise that leadership training is a waste of money. I will clarify, though, and this will seem like a hedge (only because it is): actually, I believe leadership training can be a waste of money. It isn’t that people can’t be trained to be better at something; if that was true, education in general, and higher education in particular, would be pointless.

The problem is that we often expect too much from the training or educational programs. Completing a course, or a major, or a degree, is generally assumed to confer a level of competence or even expertise in a subject, when the reality is that the amount of attention and work that the student did during their studies is critical. Grade point averages give us some sense of actual accomplishment, as was noted in the interviewing section of this class. Certainly someone with a higher GPA either worked harder to achieve those marks, or perhaps had more of an innate talent for the subject going into it.

When the focus is on the completion of something instead of the knowledge and skills gained during the program, something important is lost. Shortcuts may be taken, studying may be shortchanged, even the temptation of academic dishonesty exists, all in the interest of “completing the program.” Perhaps that’s why the question of whether leadership training is worth the money – or the time required to complete it – because the level of seriousness with which attendees take it varies so widely.

A personal example – which isn’t specifically about leadership training but which resonates with me whenever I think about the value of education in general: Several years ago, I was in a theater production with a young man who was not a very good actor. To be completely honest, he was the worst actor I’ve ever known. He was wooden, talked in a monotone, and also seemed to have little interest in getting any better at what he claimed was his chosen profession. He was going to college for a Bachelor of Fine Arts and I asked him what he hoped to do after he graduated. He told me that once he had his degree he’d be able to go to New York and work as an actor. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that having a degree wasn’t going to help him; unless he was willing to change and accept coaching he wasn’t only not going to be an actor in New York, he was going to have a hard time getting parts in most small-town amateur theater groups.

The problem wasn’t that the program he was in wasn’t good (it was, and is), he simply wasn’t willing to do the work and to allow the training to change and improve him. If leadership training is a waste of money, it’s true on an individual level, not as an indictment of the entire concept.