Most Executive Training Is Done All Wrong by Alan Fine

Most people believe, or at least behave, as if the best way to get better at something is to increase your knowledge about it. Read a book, hire an expert, take a seminar. If you struggle to complete a task or achieve a goal, the default explanation is that some crucial piece of information was missing.

Similarly, of the billions of dollars we spend annually on training and consulting, most is spent having information repeated – and still not implemented – in organizations. If knowledge were all it really took, then everyone could read the book, take the class or hire the expert and become a world champion in their field. But obviously that doesn't happen. Why not?

Because the biggest obstacle to better performance isn't lack of knowledge. It's failure to act on knowledge we already have.

Overcoming this obstacle requires a different method, a method build on the premise that high performance, from the front line to the C-suite, doesn't arrive from the outside in but emerges from the inside out. Getting more knowledge is not the only thing – or even the most important thing – that produces great performance.

In addition to knowledge, there are three other elements at the very heart of high performance: faith, fire and focus. Interfering with these elements does profound damage, so reducing interference to faith, fire and focus is probably the most effective, though least recognized, way you can improve performance in your business or personal life. Interference may take the form of fear, self-doubt, anxiety or even individual biases. It's the noise in your head that keeps you from doing what you know.

You can take an inside-out approach with your team or organization to eliminate interference and unlock the performance capacity people already have. To help get you started, let's better understand faith, fire and focus and pose a few questions you can ask yourself to find out whether you're on track to build a culture of high performance, or if you're actually creating interference that blocks it.


Faith is about what we believe, and our beliefs drive our behavior.

As a leader you have the profound power to both shape and interfere with the faith within your organization. As you create a culture of high performance, perhaps one of the most important questions you can ask yourself is: Is it safe for my leaders, teams, and employees to experiment? Do they believe it's safe?

This question is critical, because the faith that seems to improve performance the most is believing "I can learn." Employees who see projects as learning opportunities are more likely to take necessary risks and failure poses less interference for them because they see mistakes as chances to learn. For employees to perform better they must have faith that they have the capacity and support to become better. Some other questions to consider:

  • What are my beliefs about my organization's ability to effectively learn and adapt in changing environments?
  • Do I believe that my company's mission and value proposition are clear and relevant?
  • How are my beliefs, positive or negative, communicated throughout the organization?


Fire is about energy, passion and commitment. We often see its flame in companies that do great and inspiring things. It's the fuel that enables people and teams to transcend their normal abilities and overcome challenges to achieve performance breakthroughs.

There is a powerful relationship between faith and fire. Once people escape old beliefs they begin to see new possibilities (that's faith), and then their fire grows. Some important questions to ask yourself as it relates to your team's or organization's fire:

  • Is the team's energy positive and directed toward accomplishing the purpose of the organization?
  • As chief executive, team leader or manager, what may I be doing to create interference that blocks the fire within my team or organization, and how might I change that?


Arguably, focus is the defining difference in human performance. It's what brings together people's faith (their belief about what they can do), their fire (their energy for doing it), and their acquisition and use of knowledge.

One of the most effective ways to improve focus within an organization is by providing managers and employees with a common structure and language for the decision-making process. A sound coaching method can help you accomplish this. Great managers cultivate focus so that their team members can interact more effectively, significantly reduce interference and improve their performance with faster and more accurate decision-making. Some questions you may want to consider when thinking about focus:

  • Is there a simple, repeatable methodology within my organization that employees, at all levels, can use to create focus and drive decisions?
  • Does my team or organization have clarity on key priorities and critical variables?
  • Is there constant attention to these priorities and variables on every level?

An inside-out approach is not so much about getting immediate results as about creating a culture of high performance that gets results consistently. When you help to eliminate interference in the minds of your employees, you enable them to consistently apply knowledge, increase faith, fire and focus, and work together creatively and synergistically to accomplish shared goals.

The bottom line: Your employees already have the potential to be high performers. Companies that pursue an inside-out approach reduce the interference that blocks faith, fire and focus and build an environment where people genuinely believe in the organization's viability, competency and purpose. People are enthused about and engaged in their work. They know what to pay attention to and stay focused on key objectives, and they can fully execute on the knowledge they already have. An inside-out approach is a powerful and sustainable basis for improving performance and staying ahead of the curve.

Alan Fine is the founder of InsideOut Development and author of You Already Know How to Be Great: A Simple Way to Remove Interference and Unlock Your Greatest Potential.