in Improvement & Development

Developing Leaders: Why Training Interventions Fail?

Companies spend considerable amount of time and money on developing leaders through training programs and workshops. My experience so far suggests that these time-bound and finite interventions fail over a long run in developing leadership capabilities.

I have attended a number of such training programs and workshops and have observed the impact of these interventions. I could see a short-term change in people who tried applying those ‘techniques’ but the impact eventually vanished with time and people slipped back into their normal ways of working. It seemed they needed something more than just training – they needed coaching, facilitation and developmental interventions over a long period of time. They needed a change in mindset and not just techniques, process or best practices in leadership.

According to a research by MIT Sloan Management Review titled “Why Leadership Development Efforts Fail”, the key reasons identified were:

  • Executives approach leadership development efforts with a control, ownership and power-oriented mindsets rather than an understanding of shared accountability.
  • Leadership development efforts are not aligned with strategic goals and leadership development programs are oriented around commercial products that have limited relevance to actual needs or an organization.
  • Use of incorrect “make-believe” metrics to gauge effectiveness of leadership development programs.

Views from a McKinsey article titled “Why leadership-development programs fail” concur with the reasons stated above. Not mapping the leadership development effort with an organization’s specific context is a mistake lot of companies make. According to this McKinsey article,

Focusing on context inevitably means equipping leaders with a small number of competencies (two to three) that will make a significant difference to performance. Instead, what we often find is a long list of leadership standards, a complex web of dozens of competencies, and corporate-values statements.

The article also emphasizes on value of changing the mindset rather than just imparting one-size-fits-all training programs. It says,

Identifying some of the deepest, “below the surface” thoughts, feelings, assumptions, and beliefs is usually a precondition of behavioral change—one too often shirked in development programs. Promoting the virtues of delegation and empowerment, for example, is fine in theory, but successful adoption is unlikely if the program participants have a clear “controlling” mind-set (I can’t lose my grip on the business; I’m personally accountable and only I should make the decisions).

In lean terms, imparting training that does not deliver intended results is a waste. It is high time for organizations to identify this waste and look carefully at how people are developed.

Developing people is an organic process that demands contextual mapping of best practices, experiential learning (leading through real work) and change in mindsets (and hence behaviors) required to lead in a new world of work.

Join in the conversation: What are the other key reasons why leadership development and training efforts fail? Have you adopted a different approach to nurture leadership in your organization? If yes, how has it helped?

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