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Why So Many Leadership Development Programs Fail

Interest in the area of leadership development has exploded over the past two decades, and yet, programs meant to develop leadership dramatically fall short of what they were intended to accomplish.  People interested in improving themselves and human resources professionals often confuse leadership development for management training and overlook its context. You cannot have a ‘lunch-and-learn’ or send people to a day-long class and hand out a certficate and think, ‘it’s done’, one less task to deal with and everyone is trained. That’s a waste of time and resources. LD is not for the masses or the entire employee population! It’s to be earned based on a humble ego, their results and the strength of their relationships.

Managing Isn’t Leading

Sadly, many people on both sides of the discussion are unable to separate learning and reflection from actual, hands-on work experience, nor do they consistently measure results or assess the proper mindset. All of these add up to a huge debacle when it comes to effective leadership development. The good news is, once these issues are flushed out and addressed, they can be corrected.

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – John F. Kennedy.

According to a Penn State University report, “Just as leadership and management are different,but interrelated, concepts. Management development primarily includes  education and training on acquiring specific knowledge, skills, and abilities to enhance task performance and the application of proven solutions to known problems – mainly a training orientation.” Management can be taught. Leadership can only be developed.

Leadership is not a formula; not a math equation in which variables can be substituted or interchanged with foreseeable results.  The study goes on to say, leadership development is about expanding the collective capacity of organizational members to engage effectively in leadership roles and processes – those with and without formal authority. You lead people and manage process. You inspire people and manage the numbers. A leader models the right things and a manager does things right.

The Climate and Context of Leadership

What works in one situation, doesn’t always work in another. Leadership development must be viewed in context. There are three ways of looking at it:

♦     Conceptual. The context considers the difference between developing leaders – a pipeline of leaders and leadership development – growing those in the pipeline.

♦     Practical. The context which consider the types of development to be utilized and applied.

♦     Research. The context of what the direct and indirect implications for leadership development are.

Data from recently published McKinsey reports suggest, many training initiatives are based on the assumption of ‘one size fits all’, AND the same group of skills or style of leadership is being delivered regardless of strategy, organizational culture, or C-suite mandate. What’s missing is asking the right question instead of answering the wrong question perfectly?

The question companies AND individuals need to ask before beginning a leadership development program is: “What is this program’s purpose?”

Leadership development, in our opinion and those of many of our peer companies for both individuals and companies, should be tailored to a specific direction; a “from-to” path. Examples include developing high-potential employees into positions of leadership; high-performing employees into developing a leadership pipeline and more. It’s about looking at the context in a way to effectively adapt a development plan to your unique situation.

Our Elegant Leader with Voltage platform adapts to every unique situation, because emphasis is placed on individual-based knowledge, skills, and abilities associated with formal leadership which, once learned, enable people to think and act in new ways. Through measurable gains in performance and results, we deliver a talent pool ready for additional responsibility, participants discover a proven process to better engage and mobilize employees, they ‘earn the right to lead’, they experience team success and what a high-performing culture looks like leading to improved teamwork and they learn how to cultivate and implement great ideas. Isn’t that what developing your organization needs and must have to be sustainably successful? For more information, click here.

From Concepts to Implementation

What is learned must be applied to every-day experiences. You, I, we ALL perform at our average. Let me repeat that – at the end of the day with it’s stressors, urgencies and crisis, you perform at your average – this is the level you’ve mastered! You don’t perform at an optimal level everyday – no one does. Ask anyone who’s ever studed a ‘perishable’ skill. A perishable skill is one that slowly dissipates because of inactivity or minimal use. The purpose of leadership development is to expand that capacity and elevate the average. Why are there so many average quarterbacks in the NFL when they were outstanding in college? Partly the system, partly the amount of great players in the league, but most of all their learning something new and struggle with the adaptation from concept to application faster. It’s about processing information, that’s raw, not very concise in an instant. Don’t sit back in your arm chair and claim knowledge when you’ve not been on the same line.

This delta is no different in the business world.  QB’s must learn and some re-learn how to ‘tie their eyes to their feet’ (creating a habit that’s automatic).  The solution seems simple enough – tying what you learn to what you must do, every day. It’s easier said than done, because it’s  difficult to find opportunities to apply conceptual ideas to real-world activities. Why are we different? Because, we bring your own situation(s), live application into our development programs eliminating ‘soft’ or ‘fluffy’ versions of some ethereal concept into actual case studies, because you’re living it. Stop forcing your people to work IN your business when they were hired to work ON your business. Some of our participants have said our Academy is like swimming. You’re given the tools to apply the knowledge every month.

Without application, leadership is like telling someone the fundamentals of swimming, then expecting them to be the next Olympian before they ever touch the water. It doesn’t work that way. We throw you into the shallow end of the pool, if you’re not already there, and demonstrate to you ‘how-to’ make it to the other side, even if that involves some initial struggling at first. There are lifeguards on hand to make sure you don’t drown.  Ultimately you need to be challenged and figure it out for yourself along with peer support, one-on-one coaching and more. We place you in uncomfortable situations that may be a little scary at first. Why? It exposes where you need the most work in a safe environment. Eventually, our participants develop the muscle memory and movement to take on more challenging depths – without dragging along the scar-tissue of past failures. It’s about putting what you know about leadership into practice.

Mindset, Behaviors & Habits

Going back to our QB analogy – an athlete in training feels muscle discomfort and sometimes fatigue and well they should. As an athlete struggles to get better, faster and stronger, they will feel the pains of development. So will you as a leader in regard to your performance. You bring with you to every role, every function, every promotion your good and bad behaviors with you. Identifying some of the deepest, ‘below the surface’ thoughts, feelings, assumptions, and beliefs is usually a precondition of behavioral change – one of the most critical and most often overlooked in development programs. Why? Because so-called experts want you to have a good time or experience that’s important to them, instead of delivering great results for the participant that can be measured and tracked. It’s about accountability and we stake our reputation on it daily – there is no place to hide!

Great leaders can be developed; it just takes time and the courage to follow through.

Take for instance delegating and empowering your people. Promoting these virtues is fine in theory, but successful adoption and implementation is unlikely if the you’re a ‘controlling’ personality or mind-set. It’s true that some personality traits – such as extroversion
or introversion – are difficult to shift, but people do change the way they see the world and their values when given proper guidance, resources and accountability. The most important choice is to commit. It may not be easy, and it will feel uncomfortable initially. Truly committing to leadership development is the only effective way to see results, and those results pay off in time. Every one will show you who they truly are when they’re given enough time. It’s not about letting them ‘hang themselves,’ it’s about uncovering where there heart and their head is – mindset, behaviors and habits.

Simple Stratgies. Remarkable Results.

Your goal as the leader is to generate more leaders. We’ve helped dozens of organizations build pipelines of leaders for decades. We’ve created a development program for your High Performers and High Potentials that translates into real results! Our Academy, just one of our highly-acclaimed leadership development programs, is a small group of talented managers meeting monthly over a 6- or 12-month period with a single-minded purpose:

Show significant, measurable improvements in performance.

We do this with relevant, practical content, coaching, facilitation, sharing best practices, and accountability – all directly connected to each participant’s current role and their performance goals. We start and end with serious, measurable and meaningful results. Participants set ambitious goals at the start of the program & are expected to improve their performance throughout the program. Our practical focus develops skills directly leading to better teamwork and higher  performance! We reinforce these skills with ongoing coaching and support for greater results and stronger relationships. Many organizations waste time and money reinventing the wheel to develop content for their internal leadership development programs that yield little results let along anything sustainable.

Our program is based on the best practices of applied leadership development – focused on getting practical, lasting results, and on engaging high-potential managers and leaders the way they learn best. The Academy is designed to engage with high-performers and high-potentials in mind with an emphasis on high-value results and ROI baked-in from start to finish. What we deliver is simple in its methodology, practical in its approach, and powerful in its delivery.

What’s Next?

If an individual or company doesn’t want to develop, they simply won’t. I can’t force you, nor can anyone else to want to be a better leader. You must own it! A few years ago, I attended a summer executive session at one of the top B-schools in the US where an attendee asked, ‘Who should own the responsibility for leadership development?’ Sounds like a logical question, doesn’t it? NO! That’s part of the problem – trying to solve 30+ year old questions with 30+year old answers that simply DO NOT WORK ANYMORE!

They don’t reflect the realities of organizational life today. Only you can influence and affect personal leadership development. The role of the organization should be to provide opportunities for development through challenging assignments, while an individual’s role is to assume responsibility for taking advantage of those opportunities, seeking feedback on their performance, and making realistic assessments about their goals. Leadership development cannot take place in one-day, paint-by-the-numbers, “edutainment” sessions. Frankly, you should demand ‘meat on the bone solutions’ that build competitive capabilities and create the next generation of talent. A final emphasis here is make sure the person being developed knows their efforts will actually make a difference.

Make the decision and take the next best step in developing yourself and/or your people into great leaders. How do I evaluate them? Take a simpler approach and look for the ones who can demonstrate these skills:

♦  They know the business,

  Their peers and colleagues respect them, 

  They have drive and ambition,

  They work well with others,

  They are more willing to take risks, and most importantly,

  They are more likely to take ownership to commit to developing themselves as leaders, too.

The road is difficult, and another reason why many development programs fail. Mistaking leadership development for management training, overlooking your climate, not implementing what’s taught and learned, avoiding changes in behaviors and habits and avoiding accountability are all reasons contributing to the failure of leadership development.

It’s up to you to identify high-potentials and high-performers in all areas and timeframes based on work-related behaviors, abilities, and personalities. Next, bring along a partner to help you coach, nurture, and develop them in a manner they will excel in – real results that can be replicated with relevant with real-world solutions. Finally, ensure accountability is baked-in. If you’re not sure leadership development is what you need or if we’re the ones to partner with, then here’s two options:  click here for more details on our High-Performance Leadership Academy or here to schedule a no obligation, no strings attached conversation with me.

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