Leadership Game with Sarawak Convention Bureau in Kuching, Malaysia

Leadership Development Isn’t Developing Leaders

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

The way I love to start a discussion about leadership is by saying “Leadership Development doesn’t work”. This is indeed surprising as this what  I am passionate about and have invested a lot of time in training.

What doesn’t work is of course not “Leadership“, it is “Development”.

Leadership is like driving

In my country, Switzerland, it is very difficult and costly to learn to drive. You first have to pass a theory exam where you have to demonstrate your knowledge of all the rules. You even need to be able to calculate breaking distances. This requires not only a minimum of 30 to 40 hours of instructor-led practical driving lessons. But that’s not it: If you are only doing these two and not driving on your own between the driving lessons, you are almost set to fail.

Leadership is like driving. It is a complex skill set to “drive” an organisation, its people and, the most difficult, ourselves, all at the same time. We could conclude that leadership is far more complex than driving a car. However, it is surprising that most companies don’t take so seriously. They organise some courses or a workshop for one day or two. Sometimes even month-long courses. Nothing wrong with those, they are inspiring, interesting and take you for a while out of daily routine to learn something new.

Why Leadership Development might not work

Harvard Business Review has an amazing article called “Why Leadership Development isn’t developing leaders?”. Their point that this paper is making is that if the organisation doesn’t support you and help implement on a daily basis what you have learned, after 2-3 days you will be back to your own habits.

What is the goal of leadership development for you and your organisation? Is it to collect a nice folder on the bookshelf of your office, to learn something intellectually stimulating, or even be able to display that you have a leadership academy, talent development so that people are attracted to your organisation or company.

It is interesting to notice that what employees complain about most are not the courses, but the fact that their own leaders are not living what has been taught.

Under pressure, we all tend to cut corners and don’t live the standard we would like to see from other people. Like in the military, it is not when you are in a war, that you start learning how your gun works. You learn these habits again and again while not under pressure.

Transformational Leadership

In order to implement the desired organisation culture, we need to impact the behaviour across the entire organisation, at all levels, in what we call “Transformational Leadership”. This is when every manager has to learn, exercise and improve in the long run, the traits of complete leadership. This takes more than a few workshops, it is learning, evaluation, feedback, coaching and mentoring.

Only if done so, the authors of the HBR articles argues, the real value of Leadership Development is reached and business results can be achieved.

Welcome to the exciting world of Leadership!

Beer, Michael, Magnus Finnström, and Derek Schrader. “Why Leadership Training Fails—and What to Do About It.” Harvard Business Review 94, no. 10 (October 2016): 50–57.
Rowland, Deborah “Why Leadership Development Isn’t Developing Leaders
Harvard Business Review 94, no. 10 (October 2016).

This blog was written by Joël Vuadens-Chan.

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