The Conversation We’re Not Really Having About Leadership Development
Despite the leadership development industry being almost a $400 billion industry (each year by the way), few want to say it out loud: Leadership development isn’t working.
There. I’ve said it. Leadership development for the most part is ineffective.
The majority of leadership development programs attended by leaders are not reflective of those leaders’ actual needs, do not lead to sustainable skills enhancement, or the behavioural change that is required as part of such learning. Don’t just take my word for it. DDI, The Conference Board and EY commissioned the world’s largest ever research study on the state of leadership today. They surveyed almost 30,000 leaders globally and amongst the many interesting findings and recommendations cited, one in particular stands out.
Just 14% of those surveyed consider that their organizations have the quality of leaders who can successfully meet their organization’s business challenges over the next three to five years. By the way, this research was completed prior to Covid-19.
It’s an open secret that few want to discuss in the leadership development circles.
Time after time, leadership development programs are designed, developed and rolled out to leaders across the world. Fine in principle however, these programs are not meeting the needs that leaders have.
Why, you may ask? Well, many leadership development programs out there right now have seldomly asked leaders themselves what they want to learn; in fact, what their true learning needs are.
And even fewer leaders are involved in the development of success measures that will indeed determine how effective such learning and development is for them to conduct (and help them to) their day to day role as a leader.
Think about that for a moment.
It’s a very profitable industry and few like to openly discuss this subject because in doing so, it highlights the hypocrisy of leadership development today. With recent events like Covid-19, we’re seeing a wave of leadership “gurus” advocating that we need to have a much more empathetic, human-centred way of leading. These are all commendable and I personally see much value in this approach.
But let’s ask ourselves a question: Why has it taken a global pandemic to get people in the leadership development space talking about what leaders will need to do in the future to be “better” leaders and set themselves apart?
The old “plug and play” approach to leadership development is dying. Let’s be completely honest here – it’s mediocre at best, and a costly and ineffective investment at worst. And it doesn’t help your organization. Its on the way out and let’s be under no illusion about that.
One in four leaders intend to leave their organization within the first twelve months of joining. This, despite the increasing investment in each leader’s learning and development path. A survey commissioned by Harvard Business Review found the average spend per head in a leader’s leadership development is approximately $4,000 per year. Do the math. Depending on the volume of leaders inside your organization right now at different levels (entry, aspiring, emerging, first level, experienced etc.), that’s a high price to pay for leadership development programming that misses the mark.
Disengagement of staff and leaders also continues to rise; it’s at an all time high in fact. Gallup estimates that $7 trillion is what it costs our global economy every year on disengaged staff and leaders. And just in case you missed the previous sentence, that number is rising.
How can leadership development programs respond to this?
One of the first ways is to have honest conversations about the hypocrisy of leadership and leadership development. Easy to say I hear you murmur, but not so easy to do in practice. Wrong.
Remove egos, remove silos, remove all political agendas and focus on what the organization and its leaders need in order to deliver your strategic and business objectives successfully.
Next, have a conversation about your organization’s priorities as a leadership team. What attributes and traits do you want your current and future leaders to develop to meet your organization’s overall business needs going forward? Then set to work to ensure these attributes and traits are integrated into how you develop your leaders.
Put in place a series of what I call “say what you see” leadership moments. These quite simply are where your leadership team call out behaviours, ineffective activities or programs (or whatever it happens to be) that can be discussed openly about things that aren’t working in your organization. Of course, you’ll want to ensure these don’t become, or get seen as, “gripe fests” so having some criteria in place and governance around this is going to keep these focused and purposeful for what you’re aiming to achieve with and through them.
Make these regular. And by regular, I mean “bake them into” the organization’s leadership DNA and culture. Don’t stifle them with overly bureaucratic structure such as futile policies or guiding principles, or my all-time favourite, one-page laminated wall charts of your organization’s leadership competencies or values.
Just straightforward conversations. And conversations that matter. Remember those?
The world of leadership is changing. Many organizations will not be early adopters and they will “die on the vine”. They say they will be early adopters, but they won’t. Many of them will dispute the increasing volume of research that highlight how current approaches to leadership and leadership development do not work. These organizations risk being left behind in how they need to adapt to what the future will require (who, for instance, remembers Blockbuster).
Disruption caused by the latest global pandemic will be no different and will be unforgiving to those organizations that simply fail to see the writing on the wall and don’t adapt. An adaptive approach to leadership will also be needed as part of preparing our current and future leaders for what it will be like to lead in these increasingly unpredictable and disruptive times. Organizations and our leaders will need to adapt quicker, to be more agile and throw out the playbook. Learning will need to be tailored to this as well as each leader’s specific needs, and how they actually conduct their roles. Off the shelf will simply not cut it anymore in this new world.
Reach out if you’d like to find out how prepared your organization is for the future of leadership. Think about whether your organization (and you as a leader) are ready for what faces you going forward.
Reproduced with permission from Paul’s upcoming book: FIRED Leadership™ – Reinventing the Future of Leadership.