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Leadership Development Isn’t Developing Leaders

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

I love to start a discussion about leadership by saying, “Leadership Development doesn’t work”. This is indeed surprising as this is what  I am passionate about, and I 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, learning to drive is challenging and costly. You must pass a theory exam 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 10 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 ourselves. We could conclude that leadership is far more complex than driving a car. However, it is surprising that most companies don’t take it so seriously. They organise some courses or a workshop for one day or two. Sometimes even month-long courses. They are inspiring and exciting and take you out of your daily routine.

Why Leadership Development might not work

Harvard Business Review published a fantastic article, “Why Leadership Development isn’t developing leaders?”. This paper explains that if the organisation doesn’t support you and help implement what you have learned, you will return to your habits after 2-3 days.

What is the goal of leadership development for you and your organisation? Is it to provide retention or to make the company more attractive?

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

Under pressure, we all tend to cut corners and don’t live to 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

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”. Every manager must learn, exercise and improve the traits of complete leadership in the long run. This takes more than a few workshops: learning, evaluation, feedback, coaching and mentoring.

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

Welcome to the exciting world of Leadership!


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