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Getting What You Paid For…

Optimize Blog - April 2, 2014 - 0 comments

For years organizations have spent substantial time and money on improving the capabilities of leaders and on nurturing new leaders. Indeed leadership development is a core product for us here at Zeitgeist so for us this is a good thing! In terms of context, US companies spend almost $14 billion annually on leadership development according to some recent research from McKinsey & Company.
Of course it is not just Management Consultants offering leadership development. Colleges and universities offer a myriad of degree courses on leadership, and the cost of customized leadership-development offerings from a top business school can apparently reach $150,000 per candidate.
Interestingly, when upward of 500 executives were asked to rank their top three human-capital priorities recently, leadership development was included as both a current and a future priority and around 65% of the respondents identified leadership development as their number-one concern.
But when asked about the relative success of current programs, only 7 percent of those organizations polled by a UK business school think that their companies develop leaders effectively, and around 30 percent of US companies admit that they have failed to exploit their business opportunities fully because they lack leaders with the right capabilities.
In our own experience delivering leadership programs, we always ask delegates how many great leaders they have worked for in their careers so far. Invariably the answer is ‘one’ and infrequently ‘two’. This is a sad indictment on the amount of focus and effort placed on truly developing great leadership capability – particularly when compared to the investment in qualifications for technical skills.
So why does it all go so horribly wrong and why do so many programs promise so much and deliver so little? Firstly there is often a distinct lack of application to real world scenarios – too much reflection and understanding at a conceptual level which then does not translate into real, tangible behaviours.
Secondly, there is a real lack of measuring the tangible results. Indeed many organizations delivering leadership programs have no way to prove the relative return on what is often a substantial investment. At best the client intuitively thinks it’s the right thing to do and there is hope that benefits will arise at some point in the future. Hope of course is not a strategy.
Thirdly, leaders fail to understand that they need to value themselves differently. It’s no longer about easy to measure ‘doing stuff’ but rather it’s about measuring the more complex issue of how the leader has delivered through others – leading versus doing.
There are many other reasons for failure of these programs but we’ll leave you to ponder one other and that is context. High potential employees are rewarded with leadership development but what about the ‘B’ players – those in the proverbial engine room? Also why do organizations wait until someone is leading others and making mistakes before providing development to ‘fix them’ when developing them prior to undertaking a leadership role makes much more sense?
Just because many programs fail doesn’t mean that leadership development should not be a strategic priority. When choosing a supplier make sure that you have some robust conversations about context, ROI and practical application of skills.
Finally don’t wait to develop those leaders after they are in the role. Too often we are called in to provide leadership development when actually we are trying to put the horses back into the barn……

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