Why Leadership Development Fails and How to Rectify It

Why Leadership Development Fails and How to Rectify It

budgeta significant amount of time and money over the years to strengthentheir
managers' competencies and develop new leaders. Companies in the United States
alone spend about
$14 billion on leadership
development each year.

to recent studies, leadership development is both a present and future goal.
The majority of businesses rank leadership development as their top priority.
However, only a small number of companies are successful in developing global
leaders. Many companies cannot fully exploit their international business
possibilities due to a scarcity of leaders with the necessary skills.

We've spoken with hundreds of CEOs about the
struggle, and we've seen both successful and failed initiatives. We discovered
four of the most prevalent errors in the process. Here are some suggestions for
dealing with them. They propose strategies for businesses to get more out of
their leadership development efforts -- and, ultimately, their leaders -- as
they face challenges ranging from the next challenging phase of globalization
to disruptive technological change and prolonged macroeconomic instability.

1. Ignoring the context

cannot overstate the importance of context in good leadership. In one
environment, a fantastic leader may not do as well as he does in another. This fact
has been proven in academic studies, and our personal experience backs it up.

instance, a CEO of a services company might hold an excellent track record
while markets are rising rapidly. However, he might fail to provide clear
direction or enforce financial discipline on the group's business units in the
face of an economic collapse. In the latter scenario, one cannot just encourage
creativity and innovative thinking -- trademarks of the culture that had
previously delivered success. The result? An unsuccessful strategy.

Too many training programs assume that one size fits
all framework and that the same set of skills or leadership style is
appropriate regardless of strategy, corporate culture, or CEO mandate.

should ask themselves a simple question in the early phases of establishing a
leadership initiative: what exactly is this program for? Suppose the response
is to support an acquisition-led expansion strategy, for example. In that case,
the company will almost certainly require leaders with plenty of ideas and
devise effective strategies for new or recently enlarged business divisions. If
the answer is to grow organically, the organization will most likely want
people at the top who are willing to take risks.

on context necessitates providing leaders with a limited set of skills that
will substantially impact their performance. Instead, we frequently encounteran
extensive list of leadership standards, a complex web of dozens of talents, and
declarations about corporate values. Each is frequently stated in an apparent
easy-to-remember manner (such as the three Rs), and each makes sense in its own

managers and employees are frequently confronted with an "alphabet soup"
of suggestions. We've discovered that when a company cuts through the clutter
to identify a small set of leadership skills critical to its long-term success.

2. Removing the link between reflection and actual work

must strike a delicate balance while developing the program's content. On the
one hand, off-site programs that provide young participants with the
opportunity to step back and escape the pressures of a day job have merit. On
the other hand, adults often retain about 10% of what they hear in classroom
lectures, compared to approximately two-thirds when they learn by doing, even
after introductory training sessions. Furthermore, even the most skilled
aspiring leaders fail to translate the most compelling off-site experiences
into changed behavior on the front lines.

solution appears simple: link leadership development to real-world, on-the-job
projects that promote learning and have a business impact. However, creating
opportunities that simultaneously address high-priority needs -- such as
speeding up a new product release, turning around a sales region, negotiating
an external partnership, or developing a new digital marketing strategy --
while also providing personal development opportunities for participants is

In emerging economies, the ability to force training
participants to reflect while providing real-world job experiences to apply new
techniques and hone their abilities is a valuable combination. The disparity
between urgent "must do" initiatives and the availability of skilled
leaders poses a significant challenge there. Companies should try to make every
big business initiative a leadership development opportunity and incorporate
leadership development components into the projects themselves in such

3. Undervaluing mindsets

one's behavior to become a more effective leader is expected. However, while
most companies acknowledge that changing underlying mindsets is also necessary,
they are typically hesitant to confront the fundamental issues of why leaders
act the way they do. Participants, program trainers, mentors, and bosses may be
uncomfortable, but if there isn't a considerable level of discomfort, the
behavior is unlikely to change. Leaders stretching themselves should feel some pain
as they battle to reach new levels of leadership performance, just as a coach
would consider anathlete's muscle ache as a normal response to training.

some of the deeper, "below the surface" ideas, feelings, assumptions,
and beliefs is frequently a precondition of behavioral change -- and one that
development programs all too often neglect. Encouraging the benefits of
delegation and empowerment, for example, is excellent in theory, but successful
implementation is problematic if program participants have a strong mindset.
Although some personality qualities (such as extroversion or introversion) are
difficult to modify, people can change their perspectives and ideas.

4. Failure to track results

commonly discover that firms talk about the necessity of improving leadership
abilities but don't have any data to back up their claims. Businesses that fail
to track and measure changes in leadership performance over time increase the
likelihood of their improvement programs being ignored.

often, participant input is used to begin and conclude any review of leadership
development. However, goals can be defined, and their progress tracked. Once
the assessment is complete, leaders may learn from their successes and failures
over time and make the required modifications, just like any other
business-performance program.

One method is to measure the degree of behavioral
change, maybe through a 360-degree feedback exercise at the beginning of the
program and following up with another feedbackafter a few months. Such feedback
mechanisms can be used by the organizational Leaders to demonstrate their
commitment to genuine change for themselves and their organizations.

strategy is to track the progress of participants' careers after they have
completed the program. How many people were promoted to higher positions one to
two years after the program ended? How many senior executives in the company
have received leadership training? How many employees have departed the
company? Finally, attempt to keep track of the business impact, especially if
the training is linked to key initiatives. For example, suppose the program
focused on establishing a new-product strategy. In that case, metrics can
include cost savings and the number of new shop openings for a retail
organization or sales of new items.


By aligning
specific leadership skills and traits to the context at hand, embedding
leadership development in real work, fearlessly investigating the mindsets that
underpin behavior, and monitoring the impact over time, companies can steer
clear of the common mistakes in leadership development and increase the odds of

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