Leadership development failing? What’s your excuse? 

Nigel Paine gives his ten top tips for developing leaders…no budget required!

According to research, we spend over $50 billion annually on leadership development and – as revealed recently by Towards Maturity – most of that investment has very little impact on either the organisation (which paid for it) or the individual (that experienced it).

What is going wrong? And how can we fix it? If it was that easy, the smart people involved in leadership development would have sorted this out years ago! The problem is pretty much about the mindset that limits leadership development, rather than a lack of wherewithal. So here are a few tips that will tend to improve the organisational impact, and realise the investment has been made.

1. Never think leadership development as an event, it is a process that may be punctuated by events or activities. That process is rigorous and long-term in order to lead to behaviour change and long-term impact.

2. Getting participants engaged and motivated is only part of the job. It is relatively easy to inspire in the moment, relatively hard to turn the inspiration into action. Focus on the ‘how, where, and when’.

3. Brinkerhoff proves beyond a shadow of doubt that those participants in leadership development who start with an action plan – that is validated and supported by their line manager – are much more likely to change their behaviour and learn the lessons of leadership than those who step into the programme without much thought about what they want to get out of it.

4. The entire organisation needs to want change if you want to build leadership effectiveness. The best intentions run into the sand when a highly motivated graduate from the leadership programme is slapped down the first time he or she attempts to implement what was learned with the words: “that’s not the way we do it around here”.

5. Every leadership development programme should have an unambiguous focus. Many expensive programs are very vague about outcomes. ‘Improving leadership’ – although laudable – makes no sense in terms of outcome.

6. Start with the end in mind. What do you want to notice in your organisation that has changed? Build your program around achieving this outcome.

7. Expensive does not necessarily mean better. There have been many successful leadership programs built around action learning. This is the organisation fixing itself.

8. Leadership needs to start right at the top of the organisation. When the general view is: “It’s okay for them, but I am fine” impact is already less than it might be.

9. Individuals lead in isolation. It is imperative, therefore, that support in the form of coaching or mentoring is offered to help that individual deal with the issues that will be confronted as they implement new leadership techniques or standards. To expect someone to work it out on their own is risky and usually overly optimistic.

10. Non-compliance has to be dealt with. You cannot set standards and then excuse somebody who blatantly refuses to adhere to those standards. Leadership that is unevenly distributed through the organisation is failed leadership. Everybody should expect minimum standards and it is unacceptable if this cannot be delivered.

These are good tips, but there is something missing and that something is conversation! The best leadership development engenders a huge amount of discussion and support and case studies and testimonials about what is actually going on in the organisation. If you surface what is wrong, and what is being put right, you have a much bigger chance to genuinely shift the needle.

This means starting at both ends. You have a vision of what your organisation could be like and how all staff could experience it. But you also look fairly and squarely at what is actually is going on, on a day-to-day basis, and know precisely what it is like working in your organisation. Dissatisfaction with the present, coupled with a real idea of what it could be like in the future, generates the energy to make leadership development work. It is, after all, not about leadership at all but people, the company and the potential of both.

For more information, see the Towards Maturity report on the state of leadership development. You can download an executive summary here: http://www.crforum.co.uk/library/view/689.html. The full report can be downloaded for free at: www.towardsmaturity.org/in-focus/leadership2015

About Nigel Paine

Nigel Paine is a change-focused leader with a worldwide reputation and a unique grasp of media, learning and development in the public, private and academic sectors. He has extensive experience in leadership and consultancy with public service broadcasters, SMEs, global industry players, government and education institutions. Nigel focuses on the use of learning technologies, organisational development, leadership and creativity with a spotlight on maximising human potential, innovation and performance in the workplace. Nigel is a strategic thinker, able to motivate, lead and drive organisations forward to deliver business and training objectives. Find out more at www.nigelpaine.com


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