Opinion: Why leadership development training has not been effective

by Contributor30 Apr 2018

As a new financial year looms, Sonia McDonald CEO & Founder LeadershipHQ, makes two suggestions to enhance leadership development initiatives

If you’re planning your leadership development training for the next financial year, you’d better read this first. You might decide to make a few changes.

We seem to have a few problems with leadership training. According to research, “more money is spent on leadership development than any other area of corporate training, yet 71% of organisations do not feel their leaders are able to lead their organization into the future.”

So, where’s the problem?

Well, I see two key issues which need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

1. Instant leaders.
In my experience, organisations offer leadership training as a quick-fix solution, which means it can only ever skim the surface when it comes to meeting needs. The more money you throw at it, the better leaders you’ll have, right? Wrong. Organisations have been busy churning out instant leaders without paying attention to what happens once the training is complete.

Leaders aren’t created through training courses.

We know from surveys by Deloitte and others that the main thing millennials look for from their workplaces is the opportunity for development. They want to learn, but not only learn at an academic level; they want the chance to use and test their learning and improve their personal and leadership performance. They want to use their abilities to make a difference, and that’s where we’ve left a gap in leadership development.

While training can teach skills and share knowledge and tips, it doesn’t and can’t embed them. That can only happen through use and practice. Whatever form of learning your organisation offers, it must be supported by the opportunity to experience – live and breathe – the role of leader. And the opportunity should be built into your program. Let your learners get hands-on straight away.

2. Outdated learning modes.
In his book ‘No Limits’ John Maxwell says, “If you grow in your awareness, develop your abilities, and make the right choices, you can reach your capacity.” One area in which organisations have improved is in helping people become more self-aware, with tools such as DISC profiling and 360 degree feedback. There’s still a lot of room for improvement in the way we help people develop abilities and as for choices – generally speaking, we don’t offer many at all.

Leaders aren’t created through training courses.
While we’re talking about choices, it’s time to look at the way your leadership training is structured. Traditionally, training has been delivered through formal presentations of a day or longer in duration, and which may or may not include an experiential learning component.

Surveys have shown this isn’t what learners are looking for, and if you admit it, you’re probably not a fan of sitting in day-long courses on topics you’re not going to be able to use straight away.

Today’s employees want choice. They want training and development on demand, which makes total sense. They can learn and apply the learning instantly, and that’s the best way to properly embed the learning.

More than that, your programs should be available in short bursts of learning and across different channels. I call it starburst development, with little bursts of learning around a specific skillset, and delivered in formats such as online courses, mentoring, structured reading, and experience.

Learning is more easily digested in small chunks, and it’s better remembered, thanks to the way our brains work. By offering learning in different formats, learners can choose the one best suited to their learning style and which fits best with the demands of their work.

Leaders aren’t created through training courses.
It’s no accident I’ve used that headline three times in this article. To me it’s the crux of the matter. You don’t become a leader because you’ve been to a training course. Great leaders live and breathe leadership whether they’ve attended training or not. They’ve become leaders through practice, and they’ve become self-aware through their success and failure experiences.

A cohesive and complete leadership development program offers all of that, in a safe and structured way, without relying on the traditional formal training format.

We’re talking about people when we refer to leaders; three-dimensional beings. Organisations need to work towards development which builds on the whole person and not just the part defined as leader. Take that into account with your leadership development planning and the outcomes will be much more successful.

About the author

Sonia McDonald is the CEO & Founder of LeadershipHQ

COMMENTS

  • by Aimee Bernstein 30/04/2018 6:49:03 AM

    I agree. Einstein said, 'All knowledge is experiential.; the rest is information. My formula for mastery is Awareness a& Presence = Skillful Action. We need to teach leaderships how to embody a calm decisive state when under pressure in order for the to move from a reactive to a responsive mode . We also need to focus more on action learning. I like your idea of star bursts.