Many organizations develop leaders internally and create their own leadership development programs. Research, however, shows that investing heavily in leadership seminars, workshops, retreats, books, and etc. is not all it takes to create the leaders you want. No question that these training activities enhance the leadership development process, but is no guarantee of the development of true leaders.
There are some common reasons why leadership development efforts may fail and not create the type of leaders you want. There could be numerous suggestions to improve leadership development, but in my view, it would be more prudent to prioritize your efforts. It should also be expected that no one set of recommendations is “golden” or guaranteed to work under all conditions.
So, based on my career in Human Resources and Organizational Development, I believe that the following five (5) recommendations are valid as a starting point:
1. Program Design
Leadership development programs or initiatives are often poorly designed, either internally by those who are not leadership experts or by those who do not have any real experience leading others. Also, sometimes leadership development training is merely based on a single leadership model, or does not fit the leadership needs of the organization, which can prevent its effectiveness.
A valid and successful leadership development program should be created by an expert in leadership development who has experience leading others. Not every leadership model is right for every organization, nor will they be supported. This is critical: If not supported by the “C suite”, there is little chance of ongoing success or in some cases sabotage. The program and its content should be customized to the needs and culture of the organization. Off-the-shelf programs may be helpful at the supervisor and manager level, but only as a baseline or benchmark.
2. High Potentials
Leadership development is often focused on classroom learning, some of which is essential, but cannot adequately or fully prepare leaders. High Potentials will need many different and varied on-the-job experiences to help prepare them for leadership, including working on real organizational issues and challenges individually, with peers, and on teams.
They also need assignments to apply the things they learn; mechanisms to help them sustain what they learn; and the ability to experience hardships, mistakes, and failures, and work through these with the support and guidance of other more experienced leaders.
Successful leaders encouraged and mentored by others who see leadership potential within them. These relationships are critical to their development, and important in sustaining the motivation to get them through challenges and rough patches on their progress to the top.
There is a commonly accepted template of leadership development that suggests that 70% of learning will arise from experiences, 20% from coaching and mentoring, and 10% from formal learning activities such as workshops and seminars. Please note that in some organizations, the percentages may be different or different for each of your High Potentials.
3. Leadership Development is a “Two-way” Street
Leadership development is not a one-way street where the organization initiates all of the development. Leadership development is also a personal, inward, character-building and growth process involving developing deeper self-awareness, confidence, credibility, influence, courage, and the heart and mind of a leader. Most of this can’t be taught in a classroom or in the workplace. Internal and personal development must be the choice of a High Potential. Without their personal commitment to growth, particularly in these areas, their development into successful leaders will be ineffective.
4. Management vs Leadership Skills
On at least one occasion, every organization has mistaken a great manager for a great leader. “Manager” and “leader” are typically used interchangeably, but there’s a BIG difference. Managers don’t always make great leaders…and leaders don’t always make great managers.
Managers excel at organizing, planning, coordinating, controlling, managing work to accomplish specific results, and measuring those results. Conversely, while leaders also need to know how to manage the work, they generally excel at innovating, influencing, inspiring, and empowering others as well as creating and rallying employees around a common vision.
The wrong people are frequently chosen for leadership development. Organizations may not understand the proper methods of leadership assessment in order to select the right individuals to participate in leadership development. Or, they may select individuals solely based on technical competency.
5. Unsupportive Culture
Finally, leadership development failure can be a systems issue. If your organization does not have an enabling culture nor offers appropriate resources (budget, time, etc.), the process will fail. Leadership development must be treated as a priority. If no, I recommend saving the time, energy and resources for something you are serious about. The CEO and senior leaders, must play a role in developing future leaders. If they don’t make the time to do this, don’t buy into their involvement in the process, or don’t play their part in the development process, leadership development can fail.
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