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Why Most Leadership Development Efforts Fail

by Kevin Eikenberry on November 7, 2012

in Leadership, Learning, Training

George was seen as an up-and-coming leader in the organization.  People that worked for him liked and respected him.  Those in Senior Leadership saw his potential, so he was slated to attend the company’s leadership development workshop.

George was ecstatic!  He loved the organization and wanted to move up and contribute as much as he could.  He saw this opportunity as a positive step in that progression.  Plus, he had some challenges in his job that he hoped he could learn how to deal with more successfully.

After he found out he was slated to attend, George didn’t hear much more about the training until about a week before it began.  The email gave him all of the details and he was excited all over again.  Excited, that is, until he looked at his calendar and saw how much he had to do.

Because the training meant so much to him, he was determined to be focused while he was there, so he worked hard to get his projects all caught up before he left for the workshop.

George loved the workshop!  The facilitator was great, the content was helpful, and the food was even good.  He was so motivated by the new ideas and the people he met.  He gained confidence as they practiced some of the things they learned. As a part of the program, he built an action plan.  He left the two days completely stoked about what he had learned and how he would be able to apply it.

After the Workshop

George awoke the next morning and reviewed his action plan.  He was excited because he knew what he would do to be a better leader, starting today.  Then, George got back to work.  As he fired up his computer he checked his voice mail.

15 messages.

His heart sank a little.  As he listened to the messages, taking notes on his next steps, he opened up his email and found an even more depressing sight.  91 emails.  A quick glance found that there was little fluff there – it wasn’t 20 serious emails and a bunch of reading or jokes, it was a solid 91 emails to read, work through, reply to and take action on. He knew a bit of this, because he had a done some email on his smartphone during the workshop, but now the reality really sunk in.

After getting a cup of coffee, George went to say hello to his team.  This took awhile because they had questions and things they wanted to talk to him about – which was natural since he had been out-of-pocket for two days.  By 9:15 he was back at his desk, ready to tackle all the messages – including the 7 new emails that had come in while he was out.

why leadership development efforts failBy 3:00 he had mostly forgotten about his action plan – he remembered it only when he saw it in his briefcase.  He took it out and looked at it wistfully.  He was still committed to working on those items, but they would have to wait, the next project meeting was all day tomorrow. . .

Reviewing the Situation

Perhaps the situation above sounds familiar to you.  What is written up to the “After the Workshop” heading above is a good situation:  a willing learner, a well designed workshop, and a person leaving with excitement about his action plan.  And while this story is pretty optimistic, admittedly, not everyone who attends training will be as excited and motivated as George – in the end it doesn’t really matter.  Think about it this way – if a highly motivated person like George won’t get as much from this effort as he could or even wants to, others will get even less.

Why?

Because while most leadership development programs focus on developing a great training program, that is a small part of the overall likelihood of success.  You see, training is an event, but learning (including leadership development) is a process.

We don’t learn important, complex life skills in a brief instant.  In an instant, we can get an insight, an aha, and an inspiration.  In an event, we can get ideas, approaches, checklists, and knowledge.  But skills come to us over time – not in a one shot, one time training course (regardless of how well it is designed or how awesome the trainer is). Skills come with practice and application.

Leadership development is a process and as long as those efforts look like events only, the return on those investments will never be high.

Much can be written about specific things that can be done to make the process more effective, but you can start without that list of ideas.  Reread the story above.  Connect it to your situation and then think of two things you can do to make your leadership development process (whether for yourself or your organization) be more successful.

Then do something with those ideas today.

And if you are looking for training that goes beyond events, or want consultation or coaching to help move your organization forward, that is why we are here!  Contact us, or fill out the form on this page and we’ll be in touch with you very shortly.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Terry November 8, 2012 at 6:00 am

Yes totally agree. Leaders develop by facing challenges in the workplace not by attending courses in conference centres. However, the leaders first need to be prepared for the challenge and then supported. Courses can help in the preparation. Too many organisations focus on the preparation and forget the challenge and support. The development of the leader is then lost. We need to go beyond just giving leaders knowledge.

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Nancy F November 9, 2012 at 9:55 am

For me, this story illustrated the necessity of the company leaders to plan ahead when sending candidates to “Leadership Courses.” Perhaps appoint a “Project Manager” to delegate and oversee George’s tasks for the week before and after his absence, enabling George to return to work and initiate new ideas with enthusiasm. Instead, George was forced into the same old routine and the company’s investment may be lost.

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