Is it Time to Rethink Leadership Development?

Despite a hefty price tag, research shows that leadership development programmes are not providing good value for the money. That’s according to an article published in the online magazine, Chief Learning Officer.

Whilst it would be easy for me to sit here in the relative comfort of my office and pass judgement on the findings in the article, perhaps there is a case to answer.  The thing is, articles like this usually make my blood boil.

I work so hard at setting expectations with clients, being really clear on the expected outcomes, making sure that what we’re delivering is what will have the greatest impact on their business.  I do everything I can do to make sure the ROI is self-evident in the improved results.  But that’s me: the founder of a small, people development consultancy who works hard to help organisations, big and small, to flourish and grow by developing their people, leaders included.

But when I think back to the ‘old me’, the ‘me’ who worked for much bigger corporations, I can see why the report findings are as they are.

Leadership excellence is fundamental to the health and performance of an organisation. We all know that.  Leadership development can be a very costly affair.

We all know that too.  What is not so clear, is what the ROI on that development cost really is.

According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends report, organisations spent almost $31 billion on leadership development programmes.  Fully 89 percent of executives in this year’s
survey rated the need to strengthen, reengineer, and improve organizational leadership as an important priority.   Yet despite the cost and acknowledgement, many leadership development programmes were dominated by superficial, ineffective solutions.

Then, when I read in the report, The New Organization: Different by Design,” the suggestion that “leaders should be taught how to learn instead of what to learnthey would be able to stay relevant in the current, extremely changeable business environment”, my heart sang.  How long have we, as professionals, been saying this? Organisations – and the leadership teams therein – can no longer base themselves on success models for a world that was; they need to look to a world that is or that is coming and create leadership development programmes accordingly.

So what is needed to develop a great leader today? Rosalinde Torres explains her view in this great TED Talk:

So, do we need to rethink organisational development rather than leadership development?

The report results also show that the traditional organisational model for development cannot keep up with business demands and change.

So perhaps we should indeed be rethinking leadership development. Taking a whole different approach; changing the organisational mindset. Organizations need to refocus on leadership as a whole to build versatile leaders earlier in their careers, form leadership
teams that mix different generations and varieties of leaders, and develop leaders deeper in the organization—all with a structured foundation for leadership programmes and investment.

Ask yourself, who do  you regard as a good leader? Who is climbing the ladder? Who gets the leadership positions?  Surely there has to be a better way to identify potential – those that can develop leadership qualities faster than others –without alienating those who aren’t interested in aspiring to leadership, but make a significant contribution to the day to day success of the business.  Something that would allow organisations to find the latent potential.

How would leadership development programs be of any use if it simply means another certification to go on the manager’s CV?  The question that needs to be asked above all is: what is the value for the organisation as a whole? What is the positive influence on those who work with the leader, their energy, focus, productivity, willingness to take responsibility, innovation and their own leadership development?

It may take a while for businesses to rethink how they invest in leadership. Take something close to my own heart – team performance coaching.  It can be such a powerful tool, but like any other tools of the trade, organisations must find out the most effective way to use that tool once they have it.

Paradigms are powerful because they create the lens through which we see the world… If you want small changes in your life, work on your attitude. But if you want big and primary changes, work on your paradigm. –  Stephen R Covey

So new thinking, a whole new paradigm – to quote the late, great Stephen R Covey – is perhaps just what’s needed.  After all, leadership development that doesn’t deliver change and improvement is analogous to holding a map but navigating in the dark.  It’s is pretty much useless if you can’t see where you’re going.

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