What Makes the Difference Between Great Trainers and Good Trainers – I’m not talking about shoes!

Adidas Tamai women training shoes

Not these kind of trainers!

Like most of us, I’ve experienced being at the receiving end of some great training, as well some mediocre stuff.

I’ve become interested in what makes great trainers great. I’ve started a programme of watching their actions more intently and I’ve interviewed a few to try to ascertain what they are doing and how they are being that helps make them so effective.

Here are what I think are the differences.

  1. Great trainers have a greater desire to make a difference. They have a bigger drive, an ambition, a passion to deliver great work and create shifts.

I know some trainers who spend as much effort interviewing their clients to ensure the client is as passionate as they are in making a difference. If the trainer doesn’t sense that the equivalent passion is there, they’ll turn down the work opportunity.

Great trainers tend to not like just running a training course. They’ll want the underlying business objectives, systems and processes aligned with the training objectives. They’ll want ongoing support in place for participants, in the form of action learning sets and sponsoring mentors. They want these things in place because they know they all contribute to making a difference.

This desire to make a difference is also evident in their relationship with the individuals attending the programmes. They listen to participants more intently. They want to get to know the participants better. They are more rigorous on action planning and follow up to ensure results are achieved.

2. Great trainers find it easier to connect with the group and to get into a state of ‘flow’. Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi is credited with being the founder of this concept and it is particularly well established that top sports and musical performers attribute their high performance levels to being in a state of flow.

A good trainer can often be too self conscious to be truly present and truly connected with the group and the individuals in the group. Great trainers find a way to get above this and control their state to give the group their full attention.

Even great trainers will get knocked out of their state of flow. An interruption, a change to the schedule, a difficult challenge from a participant will all have the effect of spoiling the state. I watched one great trainer and how she dealt with such occasions. It was marvellous. She simply stepped back, took a couple of deep breaths, stood up a little taller, raised her chin, stepped forward and she was back in flow. It just took 3 or 4 seconds.

For more information on this concept of flow see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)

3. Great trainers are skilled in being both highly supportive and highly challenging and can judge in the moment where to be on that spectrum. Some trainers have a tendency to want to be liked too much. They focus primarily on being highly supportive, but not particularly challenging.

As we all know, each group of participants is made up of:

  • The Prisoners – who are sat there screaming in their heads ‘let me out!’
  • The Protestors – who say out loud from time to time ‘ but that won’t work’
  • The Passengers – there for the ride, not really committed but also not disrupting proceedings.
  • The Participants – there to learn!

Some of them are likely to benefit from some change in the way they think or behave and this is likely to require some tactful challenge! Some of this challenge might take place in the group discussions. Some of it might be better done offline in a more private space. But great trainers tend to have the courage and skills to have these conversations if they judge that this will enhance their learning.

4. Great trainers are less ‘me, me, me’ and tend to be less directive and more facilitative. They seem to have less of an ego and are comfortable not necessarily having full control over what is happening. They will listen to the group and judge in the moment how best to deliver the programme for the good of the participants. Other trainers tend to like the limelight too much and stick to the script for too long because of their anxiety of losing control.

Great trainers recognise that ultimately the choice and the responsibility to engage and learn is that of the learner. Trainers can increase the chances of this but not secure it. Whilst passionately wanting to make a difference, great trainers are confident enough not to be too attached to whatever the participants learn.  As a wise dean of a law school once said ‘They will learn what they will learn…we can support this but not do it for them.’

I remember being on a 4 day pilot programme with one of the oil majors. The trainer could sense the participants weren’t all fully engaged and helped facilitate a process for a redesign. We lost a couple of hours, but the participants were all thrilled with what resulted.  And they thought the trainer, who seemed to be a particularly modest chap, was a star!

Great trainers are more open to their own personal development, to explore their strengths and vulnerabilities. 

5.  Great trainers have a more respectful attitude towards participants. They show a respectful understanding of others’ challenges and difficulties, with patience, acceptance and, importantly, without judgement.

Furthermore they believe in the inherent capacity of people to engage their inner resources to learn and develop – if they choose to do so.

They have a positive and encouraging regard for others and are good at identifying strengths in everyone they work with.

In a nutshell, great trainers are:

  • Passionate about really wanting to make a difference
  • Able to find and hold a state of flow
  • Skilled to work in a highly supportive and highly challenging way and can judge where to be on that spectrum in the moment
  • Modest and comfortable being less directive and more facilitative
  • Respectful and non-judgemental in their attitude towards participants

Hope you can find some! They’ll be worth it!

Thanks to Elaine Hynd at Lumina Consulting for some insights and additional comments in this blog (www.luminaconsulting.com)

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