3 Reasons Your Leadership Development Program May Be Failing In Your Organisation


Authoured By Al Triunfo

It’s likely we have all seen this scenario before: Your organization runs a leadership development program, anything from a half-day workshop to a full week of lectures, breakouts and role-playing. Then, a week, a month or six months down the road, you realize the content, strategy and execution are out of sight and probably out of mind. I believe we arrive at that point because, too often, we think the leadership development program itself is enough.

There is no shortage of information describing the leadership gap in organizations around the world. In both the 2015 and 2017 editions of Deloitte University Press’ “Global Human Capital Trends,” there are many statistics that support the existence of this gap. We can easily conclude that the great majority of organizations recognize the gap. Yet despite this recognition of the importance of building leadership competencies and willingness to invest in leadership development, we are not making much progress.

Many great consulting companies have tackled the topic and developed extensive lists of causes. However, we continue to fall short when it comes to solutions. What I hope to be able to do in this blog is to offer some real-world, practical leadership development concepts based on what I have learned and experienced during my 35 years in various leadership roles in the pharmaceutical industry.

These concepts are based more on the investment of time than the investment of money, though one might argue that for many organizations, they are one and the same. The data seem to suggest most organizations do invest some level of dollars on leadership development. Usually, the investment is on a platform of leadership principles and content. However, even with the right platform, many organizations do not achieve the desired outcomes.

We need to place greater emphasis on “pulling through” the leadership principles. I don’t mean just talking about how important the pull-through component is. I’m talking about the hard and time-intensive work of the boss or coach working one-on-one with the potential leader. I realize that doesn’t sound that revolutionary, novel or glamorous. It is, however, where my experience has taught me the payoff comes from.

Why is this idea of pull-through so poorly executed, if executed at all? I consistently see three major obstacles.

1. Time, Time, Time

Often, the manager thinks he or she doesn’t have the time to invest in weekly one-on-one leadership development coaching discussions or that the potential leader doesn’t have time for them. It seems more productive to spend time talking about results, strategy, execution or even performance management.

In the moment, that thinking seems reasonable. Those are not insignificant topics. In reality, lack of one-on-one time dramatically shortchanges true leadership development. The one-on-one meeting is the setting that allows the boss to show his or her commitment to development, customize the plan and create a safe environment. Even if HR or the organizational development department has a pull-through plan, it does not replace one-on-one coaching sessions.

2. Lack of Decision-Making Opportunities

Many bosses will not let go of their control and decision-making authority. They are afraid the new leader will make mistakes – and yes, he or she will make mistakes. Therefore, managers limit putting new leaders in situations where they can actually lead. The result of that approach is predictable: no development of leadership skills and leaders who will most likely struggle in their roles.

There are a couple of ways I address this issue in the development plans of my leaders. We establish different tiers of engagement when it comes to decision-making, each requiring a different level of involvement from me. The next thing we focus on is understanding the difference between the competencies of decisiveness and judgment. It is amazing to see the progression of decision-making ability as skills and confidence grow.

3. No Formal Leadership Development Plan

Each new leader requires and deserves a formal, customized leadership development plan that is aligned with the organization’s leadership principles. There is no “one size fits all.” Everyone’s baseline is different. Are you building a plan for a first-time leader, or is it a current leader taking on new roles and responsibilities? What is their depth of experience in the role? How can you accelerate their experiences? Do they need a mentor or coach other than their boss? Are there goals or assignments between meetings? The more formal and customized the plan, the better. This is an entire process of its own.

This solution is not complicated, but it does significantly change the outcome of leadership development. It simply requires a strong commitment from a leader who is willing to invest in the development of another leader. As John Maxwell puts it, “Leadership is not about titles, positions or organizational charts. It is about one life influencing another.” Leadership coaching is not only about influencing another leader. It is also about closing the leadership gap, preparing organizations for the future and contributing to today’s bottom line.

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