Why Leadership Development Fails

I just finished reading “The #1 Reason Leadership Development Fails” and have concluded that it is exactly because of articles like this.  The premise is that Leadership Training has been broken for years.  Apparently,

“The solution to the leadership training problem is to scrap it in favor of development. Don’t train leaders, coach them, mentor them, disciple them, and develop them, but please don’t attempt to train them.”.

All these years in the industry, and I had no idea it was as simple as using the Find & Replace button.  Admittedly, I am exaggerating for effect and at a high level, I agree with a lot of what the author writes.  However, the reason why Leadership Development Fails is that we easily get caught up in labels & fluff.  It’s because everyone outside of our Development function is rolling their eyes when we say things like the authors #3 distinction between Training & Development, “3. Training tests patience – Development tests courage.”  Maybe it’s just me, but when I read this I picture Mr. Rogers saying it right after he’s done singing “Won’t you be my neighbor”.

The reason Leadership Development Fails is that as an industry, we’ve dug a huge credibility whole for ourselves – and frankly haven’t put down the shovel quite yet.  Our Leaders enter into our Development initiatives with a great deal of trepidation based on past experiences where there has been no follow through.


Look, I’m assuming that all T&D professionals start out with the right intentions but unfortunately fall short on the follow through.  It’s not unlike everyone that has made the resolution to get in shape for 2013.  They get to the gym 3 times in that first week while the excitement is high.  Three becomes two which quickly becomes zero.  You can’t achieve your fitness goals fitness goals in a few weeks, just like you can’t develop leaders with a handful of high potentials workshops.  They both take time and commitment over the long-term.  A short-term focus on fitness sets up an unfortunate pattern where failure becomes expected.  It is no different with Leadership Development.

We can’t take all the blame for this.  Leadership Development is just one part of your portfolio competing for limited resources, so you need to be more strategic with your time & resources.

  • Use self-directed tools that support leaders in owning their development, and setting their own goals.  You can then focus on being a true coach and facilitating cool development opportunities, connecting them with mentors, etc.  Essentially doing things maximize impact and frankly are more fun and rewarding for you as well.

Think critically from your stakeholder point of view.  Just because something resonates with you, will it also be received the same way by someone in finance.

Finally, understand the power of small wins with your stakeholders.  Exposing stakeholders to manageable development opportunities with high rates of success will help to build a history of value and impact for future initiatives.

In a nutshell, it is not about whether we call it Training or Development, it’s about:

  • ensuring you follow through
  • engaging leaders with initiatives that resonate with them
  • building a history of small successes to build credibility

Most importantly, it is about delivering and demonstrating value…whatever it is called.

One thought on “Why Leadership Development Fails

  1. I agree with the writers comments though would emphasise that in my experience, there is a lack of follow through and line management support for most training and development interventions and certainly a lack of appetite to regularly (if at all!) evaluate progress and success in meaningful depth. It is for us within the L&D profession to evaluate properly and trumpet our successes rather than moving on to the next business critical solution without gathering data about any or much reflection.

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