Why Most Leadership Development Efforts Fail
George was seen as an up-and-coming leader in the organization. People the worked for him liked and respected him. And those in Senior Leadership saw his potential, so he was slated to attend the company’s leadership development workshop. George was ecstatic! He loved the organization and wanted to move up and contribute as much as he could. He saw this opportunity as a positive step in that progression. Plus, he had some challenges in his job that he hoped he could learn how to deal with more successfully.
After he found out he was slated to attend, George didn’t hear much more about the training until about a week before it began. The email gave him all of the details and he was excited all over again. Excited, that is, until he looked at his calendar and saw how much he had to do. Because the training meant so much to him, he was determined to be focused while he was there, so he worked hard to get his projects all caught up before he left for the workshop. George loved the workshop! The facilitator was great, the content was helpful, and the food was even good! He was so motivated by the new ideas and the people he met.
He gained in confidence as they practiced some of the things they learned. As a part of the program he built an action plan. He left the two days completely stoked about what he had learned and how he would be able to apply it. After the Workshop George awoke the next morning and reviewed his action plan. He was excited because he knew what he would do to be a better leader, starting today. Then, George got back to work. As he fired up his computer he checked his voice mail. 23 messages. His heart sank a little. As he listened to the messages, taking notes when needed on his next steps, he opened up his email and found an even more depressing sight.
91 emails. A quick glance found that there was little fluff there – it wasn’t 20 serious emails and a bunch of reading or jokes, it was a solid 91 emails to read, work through, reply to and take action on. After getting a cup of coffee, George went to say hello to his team. This took awhile because they had questions and things they wanted to talk to him about – which was only natural since he had been out-of-pocket for two days. By 9:15 he was back at his desk, ready to tackle all the messages – including the 7 new emails that had come in while he was out. By 3:00 he had mostly forgotten about his action plan – he remembered it only when he saw it in his briefcase. He took it out and looked at it wistfully. He was still committed to working on those items, but they would have to wait, the next project meeting was all day tomorrow. Reviewing the Situation Perhaps the situation above sounds familiar to you. What is written up to the “After the Workshop” heading looks good situation: a willing learner, a well designed workshop, and a person leaving excited about his action plan. This story might be a bit too rosy – admittedly, not every one who attends training will be as excited and motivated as George, but in the end it doesn’t really matter – because a highly motivated person like George won’t get as much from this effort as he could or even wants to. Why? Because while most leadership development programs focus on developing a great training program, that is a small part of the overall likelihood of success. You see, training is an event, but learning (including leadership development) is a process. We don’t learn important, complex life skills in brief instant. In an instant we can get an insight, an aha, and an inspiration. In an event we can get ideas, approaches, checklists and knowledge. But skills come to us over time – not in a one shot, one time training course (regardless of how well it is designed or how awesome the trainer is). Skills come with practice and application.
Leadership development is a process and as long as those efforts look like events, the return on those investments will never be high. Much can be written about specific things that can be done to make the process more effective, but you can start without that list of ideas. Reread the story above. Connect it to your situation and then think of two things you can do to make your leadership development process (whether for yourself or your organization) be more successful.