Through sports and serving in the military, I’ve had the opportunity to train on different teams and in different countries around the world. The training I received was deliberate – either for an upcoming game or my next deployment. The development I received from my coaches and military leaders along the way, however, was always geared toward the future.

Some years ago, I began to wonder about the difference between these two words. Why were some athletes advancing to higher levels and some not? Why were some military leaders better prepared for higher levels and others not? The answer eventually came to me through the mentorship of a senior leader accompanied by professional dialogue with a peer.

In short, both training and development play key roles in building effective leaders, but training focuses on near-term proficiency while development seeks long-term maturity.

Read that sentence again.

In today’s 21st-century workforce, I hear business leaders and executives using these words interchangeably, overlooking this critical distinction.

Lanza’s Lessons

When I was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, I had the fortune of being developed and mentored by then-Lieutenant General Stephen Lanza, who taught me a distinct perspective between training and development. Neither was better than the other, they just had different purposes.

He would say training is for the current job and position focused more on the technical aspects of the profession or specialty. Development is focused on preparing the leader for future assignments.  Training wasn’t going to teach a young lieutenant how to be a captain or a major, only development would.

Let’s take this a step further.

Training v. Development

Train: verb. To form the habits, thoughts, or behavior of a person by discipline and instruction.

Forming disciplined habits is crucial for new hires and individual contributors – even leaders need this to succeed – but will it prepare them for the future? Too many times individual contributors are placed in charge of teams because they are trained in a specific area. The problem: they are not developed to lead teams. The outcome: disastrous.

My great friend Kevin Lambert, a U.S. Army Colonel, agrees that with training comes certification. In other words, I am training you to certify that you can execute your current job. This certification is for your current role and your current role only. It does not certify that you can effectively execute a future role or responsibility. Additionally, training requires ownership or responsibility and brings failure into play by the one being trained.

Develop: verb. To bring out the capabilities or possibilities of; bring to a more advanced or effective state.

In development, you’re preparing for the future. You’re on a journey to a higher state and your potential is being tapped. Unlike training, development may not foster ownership or failure. As the leader, I must provide a learning environment where the subordinate leader can “safely fail”, thus fostering exponential growth.

As I think back on Lanza’s Lessons and apply them to the business world, the principle holds true. Organizations can train their employees and leaders for their current positions but must develop and challenge them if the desire is prepared future leaders. Training won’t teach next leaders how to make executive, higher-level decisions. Training won’t bring leaders to a more advanced or effective state. Only development for the future has that potential.