What do you do when your leaders already know it all? Six tips.

You’ll most likely recognise the challenge – your senior people have got to where they are through hard work, great expertise and gaining the respect of those around them. However, you know that this doesn’t necessarily make them a great leader of people.

Perhaps they are overbearing, domineering, unwilling to let others a say. Or perhaps they shy away from having difficult conversations and developmental feedback. And their teams are demotivated, unhappy or just not delivering what they need to.

However, when a person has years of experience, feels confident in their knowledge and have got to a senior position, often they don’t feel they need to develop any further. Which means that either they will outright refuse to undertake any more training, or if they do they are disengaged and don’t learn anything new.

So how do you persuade somebody who already thinks they know it all to engage in developing themselves further? Here are six tips from us that might just help:

1. Don’t impose training on people who think they don’t need it

They will never be fully present in training if it has been imposed. Instead, engage them in a consultation at the very beginning – ask them to take part in a training needs analysis and position this as a crucial step in the right type of training being designed. Being curious and seeking to understand their point of view is far more likely to win their engagement than telling them to go on a course.

2. Explain what you’re doing and why

If people have low motivation, you need to find a way to tap into their emotions and motivations in a positive way.  Dan Pink’s excellent work shows that people are more motivated and work harder when their work has purpose. If people understand the purpose behind what they are being asked to do, and the impact that it can have on the overall business, they are far more likely to be engaged and motivated.

3. Conduct a 360 and psychometric at the start of the programme

It’s harder for people to argue with evidence that comes from 360 feedback. If your leaders can clearly see the impact that they have on others around them, they may be more willing to do something about it.

4. Ask your senior leaders to model the way

Explain to them how important the programme is to overall business development and ask them to become advocates for it. Giving them responsibility for ensuring the learning is spread throughout the business will ensure that they engage with it from the beginning.

5. Find out why people are reluctant

Ask yourself is it really that they know it all, or might they feel threatened? Have a conversation about it with them – be curious about their reasons. Remember – conversations like this need to be done in a non-confrontational and supportive way.

6. Ask yourself – are they the right person?

Ultimately, if people are not willing to engage in developing themselves and you have done all of the above, there is a question about whether they are the right people for your company.  Do you want people in your organisation who are so resistant to developing?


When people are resistant to developing themselves, especially when those people are at a senior level, it can have hugely detrimental effect on business performance, the culture and levels of engagement. Perhaps by keeping these tips in mind we can gently persuade those who are reluctant.

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