Why Wait This Long … to train our leaders?

Leadership Training for ManagersI was browsing through some articles in back issues of the Harvard Business Review and noticed this article by Jack Zenger who was involved with experimented teaching of leadership principles to elementary school children.

They were introducing the same skills to 3rd and 4th graders that large corporations teach managers. These 9 and ten-year olds had no trouble understanding such concepts as the importance of preserving self-confidence in your colleagues or the dangers of focusing on personalities. In fact, they lost no time in applying the principles to their parents (who are, after all, their immediate supervisors). From this they concluded that it’s never too early to teach leadership skills.

Jack Zenger is not suggesting that fostering leadership skills in the schools is a corporation’s responsibility. He is arguing that leadership development can be taught at any age and that companies wait too long to begin.

Zenger reviewed his organization’s database of 17,000 worldwide leaders participating in their training program, who worked for companies in virtually every sector throughout the world. He found that the average age was 42 when managers received leadership training. More than half were between 36 and 49. Less than 10% were under 30; less than 5% were under 27.

But the average age of supervisors in these firms was 33. In fact the typical individual in these companies became a supervisor around age 30 and remained in that role for nine years — that is, until age 39. Zenger said that it follows that if they’re not entering leadership training programs until they’re 42, they are getting no leadership training at all as supervisors. And they’re operating within the company untrained, on average, for over a decade.

“Practicing anything mildly important, like say skiing or golf, without training is inadvisable.” The fact that so many of your managers are practicing leadership without training should alarm you.

Here are three reasons why.

  1. Practicing without training ingrains bad habits.
  2. Practice makes perfect only if done correctly. Perfect practice makes perfect performance.
  3. Your young supervisors are practicing on the job whether you’ve trained them or not. Would it not be in the organizations and the individuals’ best interests to begin that process the moment they’re selected for that position?

For as long as I can recall, there have been those who have observed, “With all the money and effort being spent on leadership development programs, why don’t we have better leaders?” The answer to that question is obviously complex, but could a part of the answer be that we have simply waited too long to develop these skills? It may be possible to teach old dogs new tricks, but there’s no question that the sooner you begin, the easier it is.

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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