Leadership Development Programs – Do They Work or Not?


I grabbed my most recent issue of Harvard Business Review and on the front cover was a note pointing to an article entitled “The Future of Leadership Development”.   ALL our Fortune 500 clients have some form of a Leadership Development program in place and pay millions of dollars a year for such programs with what executives would describe as “so-so” results.  That sentiment is evidently pervasive as a few interesting tidbits hit me at the very beginning of the article:

  • “The number of players offering courses to impart the hard and soft skills required of corporate managers has soared. And yet organizations that collectively spend billions of dollars annually to train current and future executives are growing frustrated with the results.”
  • “ . . . . more than 50% of senior leaders believe that their talent development efforts don’t adequately build critical skills and organizational capabilities.”
  • “Traditional providers bring deep expertise in teaching cognitive skills and measuring their development, but they are far less experienced in teaching people how to communicate and work with one another effectively.”
  • “Companies are seeking the communicative, interpretive, affective, and perceptual skills needed to lead coherent, proactive collaboration. But most executive education programs . . . . focus on discipline-based skill sets such as strategy development and financial analysis, and seriously underplay important relational, communication and affective skills.”    

Those attending these Leadership Development programs (those that are on track to be future leaders) may come back energized at first but either have no clue on how or where to apply those new skills and/or have no opportunity to do so.   “Anecdotal evidence on skills transfer suggests that barely 10% of the $200 billion outlay for corporate training and development in the United States delivers concrete results” because the skills learned (IF they are the right skills?) are not immediately applied. The bottom lime is that there are a whole lot of issues today associated with today’s Leadership Development programs.  So – what needs to change?

Here is my top list of what needs to change:

  1. To be an effective leader you need to develop leaders beneath you that can create the multiplier effect.   You can’t (or shouldn’t) do it all on your own and having leaders that JUST have strong technical skills IS NOT enough.
  2. Look at your top goals and objectives (and those of your boss) and determine which skills and competencies you need to meet those goals.  I bet they are things like communication, collaboration, problem solving, decision making, etc.  not just functional / technical skills.  These are what we would call Strategic competencies.
  3. Identify your “A” players and invest your training / development dollars in them with customized programs to build the skills you identified in #2 above. Strategic competencies developed in the context of a learner’s core business process makes it much easier for them to apply.    “ . . most executives value the opportunity to get professional development on the job, in ways that are directly relevant to their work environment.”
  4. DO NOT even think about training without having a comprehensive application / adoption bridge as part of your program where learners can immediately apply those new skills.
  5. Create a safe learning environment where your leaders can apply their new skills, fail, adjust and try again. Application / adoption of new skills is the key to achieving RESULTS.
  6. Take your leaders and build a High Performance Work Team (HPWT) where any one of the members will be ready to replace you when the time comes.

As I read the HBR article, I was hoping that I would learn some new revelation that we, at The Mpower Group had not been talking about for years.   That was not the case, but it did affirm that we have been on the right track for almost two decades.  We have worked with dozens of leadership teams and helped build development programs that left a significant impact on the organization.  If you want to increase your “multiplier effect”,  look for an exciting new offer from us to help you build your own HPWT. 

Let us know what you think and join in the conversation . . . . . .


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