Leadership Development – What a Waste!?

Leaders Develop Leaders

There’s been a lot of clamor lately about companies wasting their leadership development dollars. Many do, but that doesn’t mean leadership development is a waste of money. The simple truth is: if you’re not getting the bang for your buck, it’s because you’re doing it wrong.

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

  • You’re wasting your money if it’s a canned training program not integrated with your company’s mission. And developing leaders doesn’t end with an end-of-course survey.

I don’t deny you might be able to learn the what of leadership from a book or a once-and-done training program, but you can’t learn how to be a leader without practice – over time, in real life situations. Let your people try and fail. Let them articulate a vision and try to get people to follow. Encourage them to be vulnerable and more open to feedback. Hold them accountable for doing what they said they’d do.

Let them learn to lead.

  • You’re wasting your money if your whole senior leadership team isn’t involved. Leaders develop leaders. That’s a critical part of your job.

You should be having regular discussions about leadership with the people going through the program. Not the “how’s it going” type, but real conversations that reinforce what they’re learning and help them see from a different perspective how their actions affect their teams. Coaches can help, but it doesn’t get you out of participating.

Mentoring is key… I’ve never talked to a real leader that didn’t give credit to the person(s) who saw something developable (or salvageable) in them and set them on the leadership path. God knows I needed more than one (I’m forever thankful to Mike, Scott, and Steve for giving me the rope to hang myself but faithfully talking me off the ledge), and your senior leaders probably did, too.

  • You’re wasting your money and your effort if you’re not evaluating your leaders with regards to how well they’re… well… leading. You can’t know if your program is making an impact if you don’t know if your leaders are leading.

We tend to make people managers and then call them leaders, as if the two are interchangeable. We watch them manage their team, and at the end of the year we evaluate them based on how well they managed stuff. But rarely, as in almost never, do we evaluate their leadership. By the way, their teams don’t want to be managed; they want to be led.

Our government is (in)famous for this. In a recent conversation with a good friend and senior government executive, I asked how he could hold his direct reports accountable for leading their teams if there was nothing in their job descriptions about leading. You know, specific and measurable…

His answer was, sadly, he couldn’t. And didn’t.

Is your company any different?

If you support the idea that leaders can be developed and leadership outcomes can be observed, you should be able to evaluate whether the leaders you’re developing are making a difference in your organization. It’s time to own the return you get on your leadership development dollars.

Ask yourself if there’s a difference in the team’s performance. What evidence do you have? Is there a renewed sense of vision and purpose? How’s the team’s motivation? Has cohesiveness and collaboration improved? Is the leader developing and empowering the team in new ways? Do you see a difference in their interpersonal skills? What about trustworthiness and accountability?

It doesn’t have to be rocket surgery, especially since you already compare leaders using some sort of scale – everyone does (even if it’s a scale known only to them). Start there and have a conversation with your peers, your boss, and your direct reports. Decide how you’re going to evaluate leadership effectiveness and make it part of every feedback discussion you have.

So if you don’t think you’re getting your money’s worth out of your leadership development program, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; change how you’re doing it! Make sure your program’s integrated with the company’s priorities; get – and keep – your whole leadership team in on the effort; and evaluate how well your leaders are leading.

It’s up to you, leaders.

You have the stick!