Leadership development is not up to par

A while ago I posted up some thoughts on what a standard leadership course looks like in 2013. I purposefully didn’t add any commentary to it, as I wanted to see what the reaction was to it.

I’m actually not so concerned with the content side of things. What I’m concerned about is the development mindset we think we must put our leaders through.

Here’s the thing. We want our leaders to succeed. So we say to them they need to go on a course and in most cases it will be an external provider. Typically a course is 3-5 days long, and will provide the necessary skills. They may go back for a one or two day follow up. It’s done. You’ve been invested in. You’re now better. If you’re lucky it’ll be accredited or certified in some way and you’ll get a badge. We all love a badge.

There are plenty of very good and very useful different ways of looking at leadership development, and leadership needs. There is no way of knowing which of them is better than the others, and, indeed, if they are complementary, if they are in conflict, or if they are just rubbish. There are also a good many provider of leadership development who all have very interesting angles on takes on the topic, and again, there’s no way of knowing who is better, and why you should select one over the other.

The other day David Goddin asked a really good question on Twitter about the explicit outcomes we link to leadership development. I argued that this never happens, and all we can manage are expectations.

If we develop an internal programme, we have more flexibility about the content, the delivery mechanisms, and even the facilitators. If you’re really lucky it’ll be accredited or certified, because we all love a badge.

So what about those outcomes then? How do we make them explicitly linked to leadership development?

The problem is, there are too many factors which could change or improve performance to hinge it on a development programme. My issue sits more with the fact that we as L&D think a course or programme or other intervention is the solution at all.

I’m currently mulling over whether 360 is actually valuable in terms of leadership development. It serves to increase self awareness about how you impact others, and there is plenty of research that provides clear indication of leadership competencies, but what do we do if someone is able to move their scroes on the 360, but they still are poor leaders?

What questions do we start to ask? Were the objectives SMART? Were the expectations made clear? Was the development and support provided not helpful? Is the person just not capable?

And what of coaching as an intervention? Surely if we are looking to improve performance, coaching is the best solution? Although, I get the impression these days that coaching is a replacement for a form of counselling as opposed to actual performance improvement. Do we therefore need to build a coaching culture and upskill managers to do this? What if they are trained in these skills but still aren’t capable or able to improve the performance of their teams? Was this a failed intervention?

And then there’s all this stuff about social leadership. Leaders need to be active on social network channels in order to better connect with and engage with people at work. If they don’t then we get all suspicious and cynical about their motives. Not every leader should be on these channels – especially if they’re not naturally a people person.

Which brings me back to wondering what is the right approach for leadership development? Currently, I’m guilty of this same thinking. I’m about to embark on a programme of activity to train 180 managers in management skills. They’re going to be sheep dipped the poor lot. This isn’t my intention, and I don’t think it’s innovative, but it will do the job, and in all likelihood will achieve desired expectations.

Let’s push this boat out.

Leadership development, I believe, cannot be measured with hard explicit outcomes. You can set clear expectations. But it is too much of a hop, skip and a jump to claim that revenue increased by x% because the Chief Information Officer went through leadership development.

What I also believe is that leadership development is currently not challenging enough or robust enough to deal with the challenges facing businesses and organisations across the work landscape.

I believe that for leaders to have successful development, we need to completely re-think the purpose of the development, and therefore the delivery mechanisms. Coaching, training, facilitation, self-driven learning, mentoring, psychometrics, e-learning, and a whole host of other methodologies are at the disposal of any dedicated learner. What I don’t know is what we’re missing.

This is a call to all L&Ders concerned with leadership development. Here’s what I’m telling you – what you’re doing isn’t good enough. Here’s the challenge – I don’t know what good enough looks like.