Why Does Leadership Development Fail to Create Great Leaders?
McKinsey hits the nail on the head in a recent online article when they say effective leadership development “saves time and money.” It does. If you create transformational leaders who can deeply engage and energize their teams to contribute at a high level, and direct that energy in a focused direction (aligned, passionate action), your organization will thrive without having to invest in expensive “fixes” like Lean or Six Sigma programs. If you “fix your people first,” those better-engaged and directed people will fix processes and quality issues organically because they have been given ownership in the result.
However, most organizations do not achieve their desired goal of effectively developing a great cadre of leaders, and McKinsey set out to find out why.
Executives Report Leadership Development Still a Struggle
“We’ve talked with hundreds of chief executives about the struggle (to develop leadership ability,) observing both successful initiatives and ones that run into the sand. In the process, we’ve identified four of the most common mistakes.”
Here are the four challenging areas that hinder leadership development, according to all those executives:
Lack of Context
Organizations cannot assume that a great leader in one area will thrive under a different work environment. What are the challenges that face the leader in each role? What expertise is needed to meet them? Does the current manager have them? If not, is the manager capable of adopting those specific traits?
This relates to a number of methodologies for better matching leadership “skill sets” to each assigned role. We call the process establishing “Job DNA” for each position, and it is a growing part of what we do, driven by clients self-identifying the problem of poorly matched personal skill sets and job requirements.
Decoupling “Refection” from “Real Work”
We find in our own work that you can start a leadership development program “off-line” in a seminar or workshop setting, but you must invest 80% or more of the program in supporting the employee as they work to apply new mindsets in their workplace to manage teams and projects better. This is an iterative process of embedding new leadership habits that must allow for failure and recovery, with a lot of hands-on attention from coaches, mentors and bosses. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a team to develop a leader! Without close oversight, lessons learned in a classroom are quickly dropped in favor of previous habits that are less productive but more familiar.
You will notice that we already moved into this topic under the last section. This is a critical area that affects all other challenges. As McKinsey writes:
“Identifying some of the deepest, “below the surface” thoughts, feelings, assumptions, and beliefs is usually a precondition of behavioral change—one too often shirked in development programs.”
Bingo! Too many development programs fail because managers fear discussing squisher subjects like “feelings” that underlie performance barriers. Yet fixing motivation inhibitors is the key to leadership development. Taking people out of their comfort zone to change embedded mindsets is as uncomfortable for the manager as it is for the employee, but it addresses the underlying problem and allows a blossoming of contribution and productivity from the leader and everyone he or she leads.
Feelings are an integral part of people, and leaders manage people, not things. As McKinsey states, addressing feelings “can be uncomfortable for participants, program trainers, mentors, and bosses—but if there isn’t a significant degree of discomfort, the chances are that the behavior won’t change.”
In our experience, if you “fix your people first,” which means improve their interpersonal relationship skills to embed more trust-building, communicative, truth-valuing mindsets, your people will fix your production/process/quality problems without much need for outside “support”, saving you a lot of money on such outside support as lean manufacturing initiatives or six sigma processes. I am not sure McKinsey would agree that you could completely dispense with their services, but you could make a lot of progress on your own with a fully engaged workforce!
Failing to Measure Results
Another “bingo.” HR departments grind their teeth over the lack of respect human development investments get, but they also struggle to measure outcomes very well. An organized system of reporting needs to be set up. Each element of every leadership development program must have agreed-on measurements and regular reviews, set up ahead of time; the boss and employee are assigned specific reporting and reviewing responsibilities. There is still some subjectivity in the process, but if the participants are trained to put dollars and time saved against each element of their progress (man-hours saved, promotions gained, team retention rate improved, process costs saved, error and accident rates down) a solid number can be generated to support the strong ROI we all intrinsically know comes from effective leadership training. McKinsey makes the standard suggestions here, recommending ongoing performance review, 360s and triads, etc. We agree that all the tools are there, but they must be used, and the results valued and acted on: No one should get “too busy” to make sure the agreed performance review steps are completed. Indeed, completing all the elements of a development program should be a core part of the boss’ performance review!
Does this summary have echoes for you? Has your own career been hindered by a lack of organizational support, or helped by great support? Were you expected to figure out how to lead “on the job,” by trial and error? Were you allowed any errors?