Is Leadership Development a Waste of Money?

Al Schnur
by Al Schnur

Al has personally conducted more than 5,000 high-level evaluations during his career, and is particularly proud that more than 250,000 candidates have participated in assessment programs he designed. At present, Al focuses on C-level succession planning and assessment in support of CEOs, Boards and other high-level stakeholders.

Few things represent a more important long-term investment than leadership development. Identifying and training future leaders is crucial to assure growth and prosperity for your organization.

But for many organizations, the actual return does not justify the cost. Leadership development resources too often end up focused in the wrong areas.

Why don’t some leadership development programs produce results?

The biggest problem is senior leadership can become disconnected from the development process. They end up seeing leadership development as an occasional event that can be covered by a workshop or seminar.  Please don’t misunderstand:  Leadership development events can be effective and senior leadership sponsoring and participating in them can have a big impact.  However, you can get the best value from your leadership development program by incorporating specific forward-thinking elements into the process.

Embrace “the marathon”

A marathon runner needs to run strategically to cross the finish line. The process starts with training many months in advance so they can learn how to pace themselves and build up endurance.

The same principle also applies to leadership development. Your organization will do better if it trains leaders continually over time rather than trying to cram things into a single workshop or seminar.

Focus on development specifics

Casting a wide net isn’t going to get the job done.

Leadership development programs should always focus on tangible areas where employees can improve rather than get buried under generic themes and platitudes. Use data-driven assessments to help you identify skills and attributes and tailor leadership development to the needs of each individual candidate.  Not only should the content be tailored to the individual, so should the learning method.  Some development tactics that work beautifully for one high-potential candidate may not be effective for another.

Measure success through skill development

Good workshop attendance is not the earmark of a successful leadership development program, and people can’t build leadership skills simply by reading a book or watching a video.

Applying leadership concepts to real-life situations is the only way to truly develop and refine leadership skills. Your organization should focus on providing opportunities to practice those skills, so they become second nature. Doing so helps reinforce what is relevant to what you will need from them as a leader down the road.  As a bonus, it will also reinforce your desired corporate culture.

Focus on developing new managers

New managers can benefit the most from extra support received in a leadership development program, for the simple reason that they’re not set in their ways. They will soak up new ideas like sponges and will be eager to put those concepts into practice. Thoughtful guidance can help them grow in their role and make the leap from manager to leader.

How does your leadership development program look?

Making sure you get the most from your leadership development program is a matter of focusing on doing the right things.

Molding leaders with the right tools is as important as hiring the right people in the first place. Your organization is only as good as its leadership and, in the end, those leaders are only as good as the leadership development program that shapes them.

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