Getting Dramatically Better Results from your Leadership Development Programming

Learning Thru Action LLC (LTA) wishes you and your organization a happy New Year, You may have noticed that we haven’t published any blogs since last spring (Best practices for combining Action Learning with leadership development programming. The positive response to that blog combined with changes that we observed in the needs of our clients have resulted in a renewed focus on leadership development programming – what’s working, what isn’t, and what specific actions can be taken to improve the leadership development (LD) process.

The next series of blogs will focus on changes that need to take place in order for organizations to regain confidence in the  LD programs and processes that we offer. Here are some critical issues these blogs will be addressing:

  • Why senior leadership is losing confidence (and patience) in current LD programs
  • Why we don’t have a teachable model of leadership
  • the need for a results-based approach to leadership
  • Leadership strategies – the missing link in LD programs
  • How to include a teachable model of leadership in your LD programming

So, let’s get started…

Part 1 – Why senior leadership is losing confidence (and patience) in current LD programming   Apparently, we’re not doing so well in preparing the next generation of leaders. While spending on LD programming increased by 50% between 1996 and 2012, a poll by Harris indicates that confidence in organizational leadership dropped by 30%.¹ Another survey² indicated that only 18% of HR professionals and 32% of line leaders in organizations considered their leadership bench strength “very strong” or “strong.” Given the drop in confidence in leadership and the thin bench coming up in organizations, it isn’t surprising that organizations are questioning the value of their leadership programs.

The drop in support for LD programming is occurring despite the popularity and maturity of many of the tools typically used in LD programs – 360-degree feedback, executive coaching, mentoring programs, guidance and advice from esteemed leaders, leadership competency training, experiential learning and simulations, and Action Learning. Participants consistently give high ratings to these tools individually. The problem is that emerging leaders have difficulty  translating this learning into demonstrated organizational results. Organizations, after all, are investing in LD programming based on the promise of improved performance, not more sophisticated knowledge and understanding of leadership.

On more than one occasion, I have heard senior leaders mas well as LD programming staff and program participants complain that the leadership theory that is  taught in these programs is too abstract and complex. This makes it difficult for emerging leaders to apply what they learned in class in the fluid, unstructured, and often messy social and technical systems in which they operate. Although participants learn many excellent tools and techniques in simplified contexts, they do not have the necessary roadmaps or problem-solving  rubrics that will work in the real world.

I agree with these complaints. The leadership theories that we are currently using in our LD programming are too abstract, complex and, I would add, too process focused. Furthermore, the complex psychological processes emphasized in our programs are difficult to operationalize and, consequently, to teach.

My next blog  will offer a new approach to leadership that focuses on getting organizational results rather than learning and refining behaviors that we, as professionals, believe are fundamental to leadership. This approach is based upon what I refer to as “A teachable Model of Leadership.”   I hope that you will look forward to my next blog.

¹Kaiser R.B., & Curphy, G. (2013). Leadership development: The failure of an industry and the opportunity for consulting psychologists. Consulting Psychology J., 65, 4, 294-302.
²Boatman, J.,  & Wellis, J.E. (2011). Global leadership forecast. Pittsburgh, PA: Developmental dimensions International.
Skipton Leonard, PhD
Managing Director Learning Thru Action, LLC


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