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A Diatribe On the ‘End’ of Leadership – We Respectfully Disagree

Prof. Barbara Kellerman over at Harvard Business School says she is mad as all get-out about the state of professional leadership and its development; in corporate America and, well, in general.

We are miffed at her for being a bit cavalier with her bile.

In her new book, dramatically titled “The End of Leadership”, (reviewed in this article by James O’Toole for Strategy+Business) she bemoans the inadequacies of leadership development practitioners to provide hard evidence of the effectiveness of their craft. “The metrics are mostly missing,” she says, from most leadership training programs.

While we agree that there are leadership trainers who do not adequately set an ROI measurement process in place with their clients before starting development modules, we disagree that it is generally not done. We make tracking results and calculating ROI central to every engagement we run, and have often found substantial, measurable evidence of the utility of such investments. Indeed, the only times we have failed to get that hard ROI figure have been when management does not put their own influence and energy behind the tracking we worked with the client to set up.

At Bovo-Tighe, we believe it is very much within the capabilities of every organization to generate measurable improvements to productivity through leadership training. All it takes is:

  • Commitment from senior managers that they will put their energy and approval behind the results tracking system
  • Agreement upfront how to structure that tracking system
  • Embedding training on it for each participant directly into the development program in question.

When we engage with a client to help them with human development programs, we insist on coming to agreement upfront on how to measure success in dollars (in part, because we guarantee to meet client expectations). Most of the time, we keep high-tech solutions out of it to save time:

Our measurements are based on a chronology kept by each of our client’s participants over the six-twelve months of our program. Each person documents:

  • What ideas they had
  • What happened to those ideas
  • How their team performance improved (hard numbers)
  • A tough estimate of how much of that improvement could be put down to the new tools and skills imparted through the training or coaching program.

The senior managers must commit to making this happen as much as the junior supervisors or line workers. Each must police the other to make sure these journals are kept up and have number put against them. And if they see value in it for themselves (that is: recognition and appreciation), they will get the tracking done:

A two-year program with a Fortune 500 energy company generated a documented (and confirmed) improvement of over $2 million in personnel and material costs that could be traced to the improved interpersonal skills of line workers. That was ten times the cost of the training program!

Professor Kellerman should talk to us before she writes her sequel. We can probably talk her down off her literary ledge and give her some proof that leadership development is far from a lost cause!!!


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