Leadership Development vs Leadership Training

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Marissa Porter

September 10, 2018

Are you a student leadership professional? A student interested in being a student leader? A student leader interested in being a student leadership professional? Regardless of your current title, I would guess that the majority of you reading this post have participated in a leadership development or training program in one capacity or another.

As a previous student leader myself, I participated in many leadership trainings. To me, these trainings were simply that - trainings. I believed I was being taught how to be a leader, by those who were experts in the field of leadership. I learned so much from those trainings, but it was not until I was on the other end of the playing field, attempting to engage future student leaders, that I learned the most - I had not been trained all those years - I had been developed.

So what is it then, that student leadership professionals aim to give student as they embark on their path of being active student leaders? Do we professionals in the field aim to strategically hand off all of the knowledge we believe we embody about leadership? Do we aim to open the minds of students toward building their own understanding of student leadership? Do we offer a sample skill set, and hope that they grip on and take off to newer heights?

I believe the answers are different for each student, and each professional. My goal here is not to tell you the best way to train or develop those around you. My intention; however, is to provide you with some information that may aid you in determining the outcomes you seek from your leadership training or development programs. That said, a deeper understanding of the differences between development and training may help you set the path you are most passionate about.

So let’s take a look then. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the words develop and train have many connotations, of which, a few stand out:


“To create or produce”

“To make active or promote the growth of”

“To cause to evolve or unfold gradually”

“To expand by a process of growth”


“To teach so as to make fit, qualified, or proficient”

“To form by instruction, discipline, or drill”

“To make prepared for a skill”

“To direct the growth of”

Ultimately, each situation of student leadership training or development is different, and each require different approaches. Strategically planning such approaches around goals and desired outcomes is necessary. The process of student leadership development and student leadership training may be argued to be one in the same, but when looking at the trajectory of desired outcomes, are they the same?

Though all interpretations are, and should be different, the trajectory of student leadership training may be interpreted as training students to manage and do, while the trajectory of student leadership development may be interpreted as enabling students to create value by inspiring engagement, strengthening innovation, and expanding understanding around them (Higgins & Kreischer, 2005).

This understanding of leadership is further described by Higgins & Kreischer (2005) through a set of eight skills necessary to become what they title a leader-teacher.

  1. Having a global and external orientation.
  2. Being open to learning and change.
  3. Being receptive to others' thoughts and ideas.
  4. Listening attentively and applying what you hear.
  5. Being curious about things, people and events.
  6. Encouraging risk and innovation.
  7. Setting a vision in which integrity is the foundation for achievement.
  8. Constantly raising expectations for yourself and others.

These eight skills, though initially developed for teachers, may be utilized by both student leadership professionals and student leaders across the board. Regardless of the definition you use to describe yourself or your practices, student leadership development and student leadership training are both incredibly important. Such practices set forth new leaders in the realm of education, and must be celebrated upon strategic planning and intentional outcomes.


Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America's most-trusted online dictionary. Retrieved August 29, 2018, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

Higgins, C., & Kreischer, D. (2005). Leading and teaching vs. managing and doing. The StraightTalk Coach, Insights for Leading From Strength, 3(2). Retrieved August 29, 2018, from http://www.srosenstein.com/pdf/hkv3i2.pdf

Marissa Porter is a the graduate support co-coordinator for the Student Leadership Programs KC.

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