Why are Leadership-Development Efforts Relatively Ineffective?

Michael Couch and Richard Citrin recently published an important new book entitled Strategy-Driven Leadership:The Playbook for Developing Your Next Generation of Leaders. This book places business strategy first and maintains an emphasis on building leadership programs around what it will take to make the business successful as opposed to implementing a program in the hopes that it will benefit the strategy.

I spoke with Michael and Richard this month and asked them: “Given that most organizations spend significant resources on developing their leaders, why are most leadership-development efforts relatively ineffective in the long run?”

Here is their complete answer:

In Strategy-Driven Leadership, we cite several factors related to the ineffectiveness of most leadership development initiatives. Let’s discuss three of the most critical factors.

First of all, many approaches to leadership development ignore context. By this we mean that any development initiative must be built from a strong and clear strategic or business case. Designing effective development starts with the question, “Why exactly are we doing this?” -- so that the intended business impact of any investment in development is established at the get go. We call this “framing” the development.

Related to context, a second factor that is important to the effectiveness of leadership development is to have learners understand and focus on leadership competencies that are directly linked to the strategy of the business.  Strategies vary across organizations and the strategy of an individual business can change over time. For development to make a difference, strategy must be translated into the unique skills required of leaders to execute the strategy.

Third, organizations often take a one-size-fits-all approach to developing their leaders by buying an off-the-shelf program and requiring all leaders to attend the training. You’ll see this kind of program something like “these 5 factors are essential for every leader to possess.” This approach is seldom effective because it ignores the fact that the development needs of individual leaders vary greatly. There’s just no way that a single program can address those diverse needs. In addition, and probably more importantly, critical leadership competencies cannot be learned in a classroom. Real leadership skill-building occurs through navigating and learning from a challenging job or assignment. Our model for developing strategy-critical leadership skills, called Intentional Leadership Development, capitalizes on learning from experience so that development is built into everyday work and not bolted on as something extra to do.

What do you think of Michael and Richard's views on leadership development? Has leadership development been successful in your company?