The Ins and Outs of Effective Training Leadership

One summer several years ago a large regional bank in southern California hired me to conduct sales training for its commercial and small business group.  The three-day program ran for six consecutive weeks, a pretty big project.

On the morning of day one, I met the EVP of the group, Phil Burger, and was impressed by his commitment to developing his people. Phil told me he wanted to be involved in every one of the training sessions, but that his work would not let him attend all the time, for obvious reasons.

“I’ll kick off the program, then stay awhile and then I have an appointment, but I’ll be back in the afternoon,” he said.  “In fact, it’s going to be hard for me to be here all the time, so I’ll likely be in and out of here during the six weeks.”  This was fine with me, as I am more used to the manager being absent from the training, rather than committing to attend all of it.

So this is how it went for all six weeks. Phil would visit in the mornings and have coffee with the attendees, make a few opening remarks, leave, then come back later, join in the discussions, leave and come back later in the day.  He said, “I’m sorry I’m constantly in and out, but I just can’t be here all the time.”  I told him I understood, and privately I marveled that he was able to spend as much time as he did.

On the final day of the last session, there was a party in the training room, attended by the management, the training department and many of the attendees who had participated in the training over the weeks.  One of the staff told me that morning that they had a gift for me, and duly warned, I too had bought a little gift for Phil. I went out at lunch and visited a fast-food hamburger stand and bought one of their t-shirts.  By now you know which one it was.  When Phil opened the bag and took out his IN-N-OUT Burger t-shirt, the classroom broke up.

Can you imagine an executive-level manager visiting and participating in a training program for his team every day for 18 days?  I’ve never seen the like of it in my entire career, but this man was in the classroom every day for at least part of it, to show commitment to his team AND to demonstrate that ongoing professional development is a necessary part of everyone’s job. 

The message can be translated like this: “Although I am your leader, I too need to learn how to be more effective every day, so I want to do this with you. I am not smarter or better than you are.”

That was great leadership by Phil “IN-N-OUT” Burger and I remember him and that wonderfully enjoyable summer to this day.

So looking again at our leadership traits, we now have:

  • Model the attributes you want your team to have (Nelson)
  • Involve yourself directly in the work so your team understands the mission (Lewis)
  • Participate in learning and development with your team (Burger)

My monthly newsletter goes out on Tuesday with another “Is it good coaching or bad coaching?” story.  I got lots of great feedback on the Bobby Knight edition, so I hope you like this one. Meanwhile, enjoy your Labor Day weekend, and remember to

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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