Leadership is Teaching: The Corporate Training Paradox

Training in Corporate America is at a crossroads; due to the pressures of training adults who have been failed by public education (Badke, 2009), the costs of training are skyrocketing, even as technology investments are paying huge dividends. Informational illiteracy is hampering training initiatives, slowing productivity, and decreasing returns on human capital development. Not knowing how to find data, use data, and evaluate data, is frustrating the learning processes and is hidden from view in our current corporate societies. This paper is going to briefly discuss the parameters of the problem and outline a simple solution.

Leadership Means Teaching

Every organization has a problem similar to this scenario. Employee A has been through corporate training for their job. They complete their job with very little supervision and are known as resident subject matter experts. Employee B has also completed corporate training and has tasks similar to Employee A, but Employee B uses Employee A for answers to all questions and concerns while performing their daily tasks. Employee B and A have both received the same training, have access to the same sources for information, but what is the difference and why the disparity. The disparity is found in information literacy and can be answered with a simple question: “Is Employee B informationally literate and comfortable using the resources provided?” Why the disparity if the answer is yes? If the answer is no, what training program is capable or available for teaching information literacy? If Employee A and B have been employed for the same amount of time, the productivity lost by both employees has burned through tremendous amounts of potential money or ‘blue money’ and the organization is not seeing a return on investment (ROI) for either employee.

Information Literacy, as defined by Plattsburgh State University of New York (P-SUNY), Plattsburgh State Information and Computer Literacy Task Force, (2001), is “… the ability to recognize the extent and nature of an information need, then to locate, evaluate, and effectively use the needed information (Heller-Ross, 2012, Para 1).” As the supervisor, team leader, organizational leadership, evaluating sources and training others are inseparably connected to ROI and human capital development. The problem is many people are missing these skills, and corporate training is not covering how to adapt to the knowledge dearth.

Russell (2009) proclaims that even at the secondary school level it is to late to teach this skill set, except corporate training has never even addressed the problem and the same age as entrance into college is the same age as new hires in corporate entry-level positions. While Russell claims this skill set must be taught in lower grade educational settings, this does not address the current educational lack. If P-SUNY is correct that this skill set is “needed information,” and Ms. Russell is also correct that by the time the individual reaches college age it is too late to teach this skill set, where and how does corporate training meet the needs of the organization to train employees on information literacy?

The current corporate culture is defined by Myron Tribus (2008) as a “Knowing Society.” This means it is not acceptable to not know something or the person caught not being fully informed is perceived as less than useful and will be terminated. Tribus talks about changing into a “Learning Society” where it is acceptable and encouraged to not know everything and ask questions. This ‘learning society’ would foster training as a leadership function, and the solution for information illiteracy would be to train with supervisors instead of resident knowledge experts. Burpitt (2009) talks about this occurrence as exploiting the effectiveness of transformational leadership, or as Tribus puts it, “… [Leaders] must practice what they preach. ‘Don’t say “follow me, I ‘m behind you all the way.” It makes everyone go in circles’ (Tribus, 2008, pg 3).”

Corporate Training Requires Knowing

            Badke (2009) mentions three steps to begin visualizing the problem and through visualizing the problem, individual solutions reach achievability. These steps are “1. Rethink everything, 2. Stop making informational literacy remedial, and 3. Conquer the blindness (Badke, 2009, pg 49).” Instead of re-inventing the wheel, Turusheva (2009) has provided a framework to utilize. The framework rests inside the already developed and tested ‘Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education’ published by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). These standards can form a basic test for corporate trainers to deliver. If an employee meets the proficient level, they do not need more formal information literacy training, although they can take a course if the space is available and the needs of the company dictate. If the employee does not meet the proficient level, organize these employees into a class and offer official training in informational literacy. The ACRL standards include efficiency and effectiveness in finding data and then using that data, thus making these standards applicable for corporate organizations to incorporate into their training regimes. Since data use contains legal, ethical, and social dimensions, the ACRL includes this as a standard, thus adding a level of protection to the corporation when many employees have Internet access for company business. Corporate training requires knowing how to address problems, seeing deficiencies, and meeting those deficiencies with sound training and inspiring learners to learn the needed skills to be successful.


            The ideas outlined above should not be considered remedial, in “rethinking everything” and “conquering the blindness (Badke, 2009, pg 49).” The number one factor must be stressed; this is a needed skill set for the position. Stress the need for the corporate society to always be one where being willing to learn is honored and not knowing means a learning opportunity. Informational illiteracy is almost as bad as illiteracy or not knowing how to read. If a person cannot evaluate data in our current technological society, that person is handicapped and the restrictions have been placed upon that person by their education. An employee who knows how to think, find answers, and solve problems is an employee like Employee A from the scenario and one that needs to be incentivized to remain employed. Knowing how to find data, evaluate that data, and then apply that data is a skill set which can be taught, learned, and fostered in an organization which values their employees.


Badke, W. (2009, Jul/Aug). How we failed the NET generation. Online, 47-49.

Burpitt, W. (2009). Exploration versus exploitation: Leadership and the paradox of administration. Institute of Behavioral and Applied Management, 227 – 245.

Heller-Ross, H. (2012). Information literacy: a critical skill and a strategic commitment. Retrieved from http://www.plattsburgh.edu/library/instruction/informationliteracydefinition.php

Russell, P. (2009). Why universities need information literacy now more than ever. Feliciter, 55(3), 92-94.

Tribus, M. (2008). Changing the Corporate Culture Some Rules and Tools. Retrieved March 16, 2009 from: Changing the Corporate Culture Some Rules and Tools Web site: http://deming.eng.clemson.edu/den/change_cult.pdf

Turusheva, L. (2009). Students’ information competence and its importance for life-long education. Problems of Education in the 21st Century, 12, 126-132.

© 2015 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved


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Dual service military veteran. Possess an MBA in Global Management and a Masters degree in Adult Education and Training. Pursuing a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Business professional with depth of experience in logistics, supply chain management, and call centers.

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