It might seem strange for a person who has devoted his life to helping leaders grow and improve to write an article titled “The Insanity of Leadership Development.” My hope is that the title – and the irony – piques your curiosity to read on. The truth is that most organizations want to develop their leaders, but the approaches they continually use yield inconsistent or poor results.
You’ve heard insanity defined as doing the same thing and expecting a different result. In reality, most organizations’ leadership development efforts are not far from that. What is it that they do?
- Buy or build a workshop to have their leaders attend.
- Buy copies of a book and have leaders read it.
- Bring in a speaker (who perhaps wrote the book) to get leaders motivated.
- Build or buy another workshop or buy more books
And so on, and so on, and so on.
There can be great value in all of those activities. But experience shows that they are seldom enough to get the full results that organizations (and individual leaders) are looking for.
The problems with the traditional approach to leadership development are many. Here are just a few:
- Focused on events, not true learning. We don’t really learn skills in a classroom (or webinar!), we learn skills by trying and practicing them. Most current approaches are too focused on the what, not the doing.
- Focused on knowledge. Leadership is about doing things, not knowing stuff.
- Not enough accountability. The real learning (skill building) happens while doing it, and most approaches don’t expect or follow-up on the practice.
- Not enough personalization. In the world of workplace learning, one size most likely doesn’t fit all. Most approaches don’t take learner experience and styles into account enough.
While most learning professionals would agree with this list, they tend to revert to the practices and approaches they have used before – hoping for a better result.
Like I said – we are insane!
Thankfully, there are things we can do to improve the results of our leadership development efforts, if we are willing to look at the problem differently and then apply new solutions. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Focus and prioritize more effectively. This may mean trying to “teach” less at a time, so people can actually apply and improve one thing before being overwhelmed with more.
- Focus on application and habit development. This means we must help people examine and build the beliefs consistent with applying the new skills and providing them with ways to try and practice the new skills consistently.
- Think real world more. When creating your plans for leadership development, keep everything grounded in what your leaders do and experience during their normal (not ideal) workday.
- Create learning experiences and processes. Stop thinking about (only) events and create learning processes. At a minimum, add richness and depth to an event with pre and post work. Even better, provide coaching and accountability following events to improve the chances the new skills are learned and used.
There is more to the leadership development problem than I have addressed in this short article, but I have pointed you towards some of the largest levers you can pull to make improvements. I’ve created a masterclass – a series of three videos that goes into this far deeper. Titled, The Journey to Remarkable Leadership, it releases today (June 3). It is free and designed to help organizations (and you!) think about the whys and hows of developing leaders in the real world. Register now to get immediate access. Even if you are starting after June 3 – you can still access all of it as it is released!