The Root of 99% of All Workplace Issues
Updated: Feb 24
Have you ever heard of a "hostage student"? A hostage student is usually an employee whose supervisor has mandated to attend a training class against their will. Such students tend to say the bare minimum during the course, hoping to get through the training without participating.
Typically, hostage students don't look in the mirror and ask themselves why their employer felt it was necessary to take the class in the first place. Instead, they assume their coworker's shortcomings lead to the dreaded class or their leader being out of touch. In short, they point the blame at everyone but themselves.
While I've run into a fair number of hostage students in my career, I was fortunate to encounter one this summer that was different.
Right away, I sensed that his hostage student did not want to be taking my supervision webinar: they did not turn on their webcam for the duration of the initial two-hour session. Even worse, each time I asked them a question, I received no response.
The next day, I called this student and asked what they thought of the first session. They immediately expressed frustration by admitting that they didn't know what to think about it because they didn't even want to be attending the webinar in the first place. I asked if he felt he could benefit from the class, despite it not being his idea. His response was a definite "no."
Digging deeper, I learned that the student's manager enrolled him in the leadership training course as a last resort because he had lost control of his employees and had run out of ideas on how to help him be a better manager. The student soon got to the root of his frustration: being enrolled in a leadership course made him feel like a failure because he associated additional training with incompetence.
I found this very interesting. Then, I asked if he had any kids. When he responded that he did, I asked him if, when his children were learning to walk, he got into their little faces when they fell and called them a loser and a failure. Holding back nervous laughter, he replied, "no." I asked him how he addressed his toddler's tiny setback. He replied that he helped them back up and encouraged them to try again.
I told him that he wasn't much different from his child; he'd fallen, but his employer helped him stand back up and provide some encouragement with specified training. He was starting to get it. With a little help, he realized that his employer was investing in him to become a better leader.
Feeling a little better about this student's prospects in the course, I reminded him that when his baby was born, no one said, "congratulations, it is a leader!" After all, leaders aren't born… they are MADE!
Why is leadership training like this one of the most important kinds of training managers can take? Leaders are in the game of fulfilling people's needs. As leaders, we need to keep in mind that employees are people, and people are interested in only one thing: getting their needs met. And when employees feel that their needs are under threat, conflict arises.
The fact is that conflict is inevitable and is the root cause of 99% of all workplace problems! Thus, as leaders, how we resolve workplace conflict makes or breaks an organization. However, knowing how to resolve disputes quickly and fairly requires a particular set of leadership training skills.
I mentioned to the student that 90% of solving a problem is admitting you have one. If he were able and willing to admit that there was room for him to grow as a leader, then everyone would benefit from his employer on down. More significantly, he would personally develop as a leader as well.
This former hostage student quickly became an engaged member of the remaining leadership webinar sessions, asking poignant questions and sharing with others his experiences from applying the fundamentals of leadership back in the workplace.
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