Saying-doing gap and the Value-Based Trainer (VBT) Wali Zahid

Wali Zahid

Trainers are leaders. They have considerable influence and power on those who come to their training sessions. Can the trainers ever be effective when they teach one thing in the classroom and do just the opposite in real life?

This is a cursory question to even a bigger question: Why do our management trainings fail to achieve what they are intended to and what causal role the trainer has with this failure?

Although a paradoxical element is at play here.

Have you heard of this: ‘Nature makes us teach those things which we need to learn ourselves most’? Or, the proverbial ‘Those who can do, those who can’t teach’?

Some degree of saying-doing gap may not be too costly. A gap of significant degree or a gap over long period may hurt the cause critically.

However, we trainers need to ‘graduate’ quickly (Nature makes us teach those things which we need to learn ourselves most) along the way if we want to make a meaningful impact on the thousands of people who sign up for our courses. Incongruity won’t work.

My trouble is seeing those trainers who have spent a lifetime (say 10 to 20 years), and still manifesting a mismatch. They could sadly be a model of saying-doing gap.

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Here are a few likely paradoxes that trainers need to get right if they want to leave an impact in a country like Pakistan.

Some of these are esteem issues. Others are competency issues. Yet others are behavior issues.

In order to become what I would call a Value-Based Trainer (VBT), they need to deal with these issues upfront.

Our holy book Qur’an provides two examples of good word and a bad word and how these affect on the receivers.

Many readers might have heard of Caliph Hazrat Umar (RA)’s example: it took him three days to tell the child not to eat sugar, just because he himself was eating sugar on the earlier two days. Qur’an again: ‘Why do you say what you do not practice.’

See also: Eight pitfalls of corporate training programs in Pakistan

The context of this writing: Although written primarily in Pakistani (nation) and the Muslim (religion) context, these observations could apply to other nations and other religions as well. Apolitical and areligious colleagues can also benefit from some of these.

What they teach

What they actually do What trainers could do instead
Teamwork / team building Most are a one-person team. They cannot coexist with another person on the team over a meaningful period. Learn to work with others. Only teams can achieve what individuals cannot. Team up. Accept other individuals as they are. Working with them could be fun.

And if you are wired to be a loner, refuse to train in teamwork or team building. Train in areas where individual brilliance may bring big benefit.

Communication skills Their own communications are devoid of any impact  – in both substance and appearance. Invest in your own communication training. Know what words to use (including how to avoid emotional or loaded words) and the tone and body language.

Track your own communications over a period like a year (email trails, whatsapp messages, phone calls and all those lengthy face-to-face sessions) and see how cumbersome they may appear.

Invest in knowing the psychology of fonts and each font’s appeal on the reader. Look critically at your PPt and see what message you are conveying through slide background and font shape and colors.

Customer service/ Courtesy Don’t even care. Particularly if they have been successful. If you are in public sphere, this is non-negotiable.

Whether it’s on the class or off-class, show courtesy to everyone you meet. Listen genuinely and be willing to help.

Efficiency In matters of non-revenue nature, they are procrastinators of a higher order.

Hundreds of emails keep waiting in inbox for a simple reply.

Do not let growth and development opportunities go by by constantly putting it off, by being lazy or appearing busy. Action things as they come.

It’s only when you work to a deadline you can teach the benefits of efficiency.

Deliver on promises Won’t follow up (unless reminded repeatedly). Fulfill any promise you make on the go, whether minor – e.g. emailing a website address, or substantive – e.g. dropboxing post-course readings or support materials.
Conflict management Their own lives are infested with social, family and workplace conflicts.

Perhaps trainers’ most vulnerability comes in this area.

Find out your own emotions, triggers and thresholds. Work on these emotions so you are in control when you are in public.
Emotional intelligence Volatile, insecure, irritable – in and outside the training session You need to manifest a stable, secure and consistent personality and handle challenges in their perspective.

Over-reacting to individuals and situations while teaching EQ may become oxymoron.

Trusting others Can’t seem to trust anyone, even their closest associates or family members. Develop a more ‘optimistic’ view of life.

If you have been betrayed by someone in the past, this doesn’t mean you can’t trust others.

If your own trust threshold is too low and you don’t want to change this worldview, refuse to teach in this area.

Big-heartedness This may not be a subject that they teach. But their big-heartedness becomes evident from the many stories of selfless acts they dole out during sessions.

Too self-centered. Even won’t share a document or template. Always ask WIIFM. Operate from ‘scarcity’ rather than ‘abundance’ notion.

(Although in post-2005 Google-era, the occurrence of not sharing materials is reducing.)

Greatness only comes by helping individuals achieve their potential. It’s only when you look beyond your nose that things start to bear fruit. Help other people even when it doesn’t appear to make sense on the face of it.

Or, don’t pretend to be selfless braveheart. Tell them that you are a selfish, miserly person and that it’s okay.

Competence / excellence Hardly strive for their own competence development.

You bump into them after 10 years and their game is still the 1990’s.

You exist to add value. This is why trainers are paid so awesomely.

The value-addition will only happen if you raise the bar, invest time in developing the next-level expertise in your chosen area – off-the-shelf or 10-year-old manual won’t work anymore.

Integrity / honesty You may blame it to judgment call if it was a grey area of transaction. They do not even pause for a moment about clear, black & white prohibited areas of business dealings, e.g. paying kickbacks, exchange of favours or conflict of interest.


They will soon find out about your ‘true colour’ and what you meant by integrity. Your reputation will travel faster than your word.

Walk the talk. Be principles-centered and values-led.

Believe in the contents they teach Their inner script: ‘No, I am in the arena only to perform this task, i.e. deliver this module (my British ex-boss used to say this). Training is not just teaching a prepared manual by someone in your firm or license holder; it means a lot more. The teaching will only transcend if you believed in the materials and the approach they are conveying.

Refuse to teach those things you do not believe in, even if they cost you business. Your business is already guaranteed by the Supreme Power.

Personal moral conduct ‘My personal conduct is between me and my god’ attitude.

‘Not an issue as far as my training is concerned’.

We work in a Muslim country. As a Muslim, we have clear guidelines on what to do – five prayers, fasting, zakat, haj, be upright, tell the truth.

We also have clear guidelines on what not to do – stealing, gambling, adultery, alcohol, lying, giving or taking kickbacks, taking away things that do not belong to us. The list could go on.

Acknowledging that we all are vulnerable, frail human beings and no one is perfect, we need to follow Allah’s rulings (or whatever religion we follow). Only then can we have impact through what we teach.

This is not an exhaustive list. These few paradoxes only tell a story of saying-doing gap, thus resulting in poor training efficacy.

The bottomline is this: to be a Value-Based Trainer (VBT), either refuse to teach something that you do not believe in (cognition) or fail to model (behavior). Alternatively, graduate quickly. Minimise the saying-doing gap.

Think Task: Can you share some other paradoxes? What are some additional corrective measures trainers could take?

Wali is author of iBook, Great Training in 10 Steps. Free to download. You will need a US/UK App Store account.

Wali runs the world’s first paperless Train the Trainer workshop, now in 16th year, at 16+ Asian locations, with over 1,000 trainers trained so far.

He’s CEO of Skill City. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

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