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Train Like You Fight: The Importance of Leadership Development

Updated: Jan 24, 2020

SWAT officers conducting tactical and leadership training
S.W.A.T. Leadership Training with Perspective Approach

Bottom Line Up Front:

1. Most leaders don't enforce realistic training standards and performance results suffer.

2. Leadership and Management training are different.


Yesterday I had the privilege of working with a local S.W.A.T. team. We conducted tactical and psychological leadership training consisting of Hostage rescue and negotiation, locating and diffusing a bomb, and of course, good old fashioned bad guy extermination. One of the things that always sticks out to me whenever I conduct military or law enforcement styled training is the commitment to make the training as realistic as possible and to draw out learning points in both real-time and in debriefs. This is contrasted significantly with the way most businesses train their people.

Some businesses train their people very well in certain areas, but neglect others that they deem less important. At some companies, sexual harassment training is taken more seriously than the actual technical training of daily tasks, whereas in other companies, sexual harassment training is merely a check in the box and the technical training carries a certain gravitas that outweighs nearly everything else. But if a skillset is important enough to take the time and effort to train, shouldn't we as leaders always give our best and expect the trainees' best?

One of the lessons that was ingrained into my head at a very young age while serving in the Marine Corps was that we must always train like we fight, because as history and experience have always proven, we will fight the way we trained. Countless times I have seen a warrior do something foolish that they never intended to do because of a deficient or entirely incorrect training habit. This is best shown through a real-world scenario that played out a few years ago with a police officer.

"Train like you fight, because you will fight like you trained!"

In his book, "On Combat", Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman recounts a story of a law enforcement officer who was conducting firearm disarmament training (taking a gun from a bad guy who got the jump on you) with his partner. Each time he took the gun away, he would "reset" and give the gun back to his partner to practice again. When the officer was actually held at gunpoint by a real criminal in a store, his training kicked in and the officer disarmed the criminal. You can imagine the criminal's surprise when the officer then immediately handed the gun back to the criminal. I have seen this same thing happen when I was conducting martial arts training with my Marines. After this event, the entire U.S. Military and law enforcement agencies across the nation adapted the way they trained their personnel.

While the consequences for many businesses may not be life and death or nearly as dramatic, there are still significant consequences that our people and the business as a whole can suffer due to a lack of proper training. I was recently speaking with an executive at a construction company that revenues several hundred million a year in projects. He expressed frustration with one of his salesperson's performance. This salesperson had a natural charisma, understood the industry and the products, had empathy for the customer's needs, and an established rapport with his clients. But he hadn't closed any deals in months, especially with new customers. This salesman was lacking a piece of training at the to actually close the deal.

Perspective Approach tactical leadership training with local S.W.A.T. teams
Planning and debriefs are critical to training

In other businesses and industries the consequences may very well be life and death. Those in the construction and manufacturing trades know this well. But even in an "office setting", the severity of consequence is still there. I don't want you to focus only on safety when I speak of training. Losing a client, injuring a coworker, disrupting a critical system or breaking infrastructure are all significant losses to a company, and most of the time they could be avoided with proper training which focuses on why we train to a certain standard, and not merely the "what" of training.

"The best form of troop welfare is tough, realistic training."

But all of this falls under an even larger umbrella, leadership. Leadership training is no different than any other scope of training in that it should be technical, practical, realistic, and create a permanent behavioral change. Far too often, I have seen individual leaders attend something more akin to "management" training rather than leadership training. No, one is not more important than the other. They are different sides to the same coin. The reason most people avoid leadership training is because management or technical training is often simpler.

We must never forget that no human can ever be managed. We can manage their time with schedules. We can manage their finances with a budget. We can even manage their roles with job descriptions. But people have to be led. And that takes judgement and experience. While education and digital training certainly work, the best way to improve both of those areas is with scenario-based training. We at Perspective Approach love to conduct leadership training using real-world scenarios and practical, hands-on training. Of course, our flavor revolves around military practices, but with a focus on your business. What's interesting to me when I train a company is the willingness of people to try something new in order to gain a new skillset. But often times, it's treated as a "one-and-done" event. Sustainment in the training of our personnel is critical to seeing any sort of long-term or permanent result improvement in the areas we're looking for.

For more information on how to train leaders please visit

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