I love developing leaders. Of all the interesting and challenging work that I’ve enjoyed over the years, the most rewarding is working with people who aspire to be better at the challenge of leading. So, my radar is always up for what’s new in terms of programs, ideas and methodologies that provide more effective leadership development.
What I’ve learned is that many people go into a leadership program with a range of expectations that may be unrealistic. Their employers may also make assumptions that go unfulfilled.
Here is a checklist of the six common myths about leadership development programs – especially for those who would like to make the most of their training investment dollar.
Myth #1: Attending a leadership course will make you a better leader
This is the biggest (and most expensive) myth for organisations looking to grow their leadership capability. In the words of a colleague, ‘leadership is a contact sport’ – it’s about actually doing stuff. All the leadership knowledge in the world won’t make a better leader without the chance to apply that knowledge. Thinking that a leadership program (or any learning at all) is an event, that people turn up to, participate in and then leave as a new expert, is a very unhelpful – and costly – way of thinking.
Research informed by neuro-science, psychology and behavioral economics suggests that shifting an aspiring leader’s behaviour takes a lot more than their presence on a training program.
We know what strategies to apply – cognitive, affective and motivational – that are most likely to lead to lasting behaviour change.
For leadership development to be effective, what happens in the classroom is just the beginning.
Myth#2: It’s all about content
Often organisations are over-focused on a leadership program’s content rather than process of learning. I’m often asked by clients to produce detailed outlines describing the material to be covered in a leadership workshop, without any understanding of how the learning takes place.
Process is critical to success and I find content is influenced heavily by the learners revealing their needs, what they are ready for and their willingness to stretch themselves to explore it.
The imperfect (but still very useful) 70:20:10 model emphasises that classroom content is responsible for about 10% of learning. Other elements such as informal experience on the job (70%) and coaching and mentoring (20%) have much greater impact on an individual learner’s needs.
Myth #3: Learning to be a leader is going to be hard
Learning to be a leader is only hard when the right conditions aren’t provided for an aspiring leader to flourish.
Building on the notion of experiential learning, if an organisation is willing to provide the support of another senior leader (or even better, a group of senior leaders); develop a culture that subscribes to continuous improvement through conscious coaching; acknowledge that mistakes are vital to success; and establish opportunities to practice and reflect, then learning to be a leader can be a fun and rewarding experience.
Growth only happens in a fertile environment and it is up to organisations to build a culture that values learning and development.
Myth #4: Leadership development is expensive
Whether you measure your ROI on improved relationships, increased sales, a lift in morale, a drop in production costs or a reduction in staff turnover, an investment in quality leadership development is likely to offer extremely good value to most organisations.
There should not be any surprises – a good leadership development program will always commence with agreed and carefully articulated KPIs that are relevant to the individual and to the organisation, so improvements and achievements are tracked and acknowledged.
A leadership development program that follows the 70:20:10 model will typically include structured mentoring and/or coaching and real workplace projects with measurable targets, feedback cycles and opportunities to practice developing skills.
This type of program need not be expensive – in fact true value comes from the commitment of the participant and the level of support that their organisation offers.
Myth #5: Leaders are born not made
The answer of course, is that it’s neither one nor the other.
Genetics, values and a certain predisposition are more likely to lead to success but this doesn’t preclude anyone from the capacity to benefit enormously from (good) leadership development.
Put simply, leadership is about a set of applied behaviours…and these behaviours can be learned.
Myth #6: You don’t have time to work on leadership development
Of all the justifications that I hear for postponing leadership development or for avoiding the conversation altogether, the one that causes me the most personal angst is hearing that an organisation ‘doesn’t have the time’.
Of course, business priorities will wax and wane and urgent projects need to be completed. Of course, leadership development is an investment in time and energy and money.
My experience shows that a good leadership development program should be justified in the same way as other investments that consume important resources. And that if leaders are provided with new capacity and skills and outlook, that they will find additional time for their organisation, their people and for themselves.
Organisations that are too busy to invest in developing their leaders should consider answering the question: “What is the cost of not developing your next generation of leaders?”