Why current leadership development programmes are bound to fail

Leadership development programmes have become big business. Business Schools all around the globe serve as the default setting as to where to go when you want such a programme. However, There are early signs that this might not always be the case into the future. The generic approach adopted by many business schools is leaving many clients dissatisfied with the return on the considerable investment made in such programmes. Whilst good content is being shared, very often his isn’t being translated into tangible benefits in the workplace. In short, behaviours aren’t changing. It must be said that this isn’t always the fault of the business school as often not enough work is done in bridging the programme to the work reality of the participants. There are cracks appearing the current model of leadership development but the investment in this current model makes it difficult for the business schools to not only challenge it, but to find better and more relevant alternatives.

books blue sky There will be three specific factors leading to the demise of the current model:

1.    The realization that the return on investment is not adding up
2.    The unwillingness of the next generation of leaders to invest in the current model
3.    The shift in how learning takes place fuelled by a new breed of learners emerging with different needs and expectations

In designing leadership development programmes TomorrowToday’s approach is to look at three focus areas and then ask three important ‘design’ questions.

The three areas are: the changing world, the changing workplace and the changing workforce. These three focus areas provide the grid or serve as reference points to ensure that those earmarked for leadership development are future-fit. These three areas are both dynamic and inter-dependent and understanding the connection and what is causing the shifts, are fundamental to leading into the future. Of course there are specific subjects and headers under each of the focus areas but I won’t elaborate on these here.

There are three design questions that will ensure that the programme is both effective and sustainable. It is the failure of business schools to creatively address these three questions that is causing the problem with many current programmes. The three questions are:

1.    What content do we need to share?
2.    What methodologies do we need to ensure that learning takes place?
3.    On what platforms does this need to occur?

They are basic questions but in each case the failure to see the movement or change is what is causing many current programmes to fall short of what they could or should be.

All three areas these questions address is under pressure to adapt to a changing world. Content has never been easier to get, is often free and is now the ‘easy’ part of the equation. This hasn’t always been the case as we have prized ‘subject experts’ who guard their knowledge and without whom leading cannot take place. All this is shifting. The prevailing methodology has been ‘teacher-tell’ and the classroom has been the epicentre for our learning process. We know that this is seldom the most effective way to learn but are often afraid to try other means for our metrics haven’t been designed to cope with such alternatives. It is easier to trust in a programme rather than a process; it is easier to lecture than to experience; and it is safer to have a schedule and curriculum to control rather than understand the importance that experimentation and disequilibrium play for authentic learning to take place. Of course the platform is perhaps where the biggest shift is taking place. The move to social business and technology driven platforms is where the biggest discord sits. Older leadership architects feel ‘lost’ in this space whilst a younger, technically capable crowd is emerging who expect to find technology and social platforms built into their learning experience.

Change in this space is inevitable. Smart companies are those asking different questions when it comes to ensuring that their leaders are competent to lead into the future. We need to be willing to challenge much of the current paradigm and prevailing wisdom when it comes to how best to do this. Our current models are tired and rethinking leadership development is critical to ensure that our organisations will adapt to a complex and changing world.

What is the question you need to be asking (but aren’t) when it comes to your own leadership development programme?

4 Responses to “Why current leadership development programmes are bound to fail”

  1. Colin Phelps April 10, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

    An excellent book that looks into some of this is Barbara Kellerman’s “The End of Leadership.” Her observations about the “leadership industry” should cause all of us involved in the development of leaders to take a good hard look at ourselves. The widespread failure of leadership in so many sectors in our world suggests that we haven’t done it right in the past and we’re going to fail even more dismally in the future. I think a seminal question is whether leadership can be taught in the classroom at all must be asked.

  2. Nirakasha Sookraj April 11, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    I think another contributing factor to the demise of the leadership programmes is the expectation of turning ordinary people into world leaders – there is a fine line between identifying an individual who has potential to becoming a great leader and using an institution to groom him/her to becoming a leader – I agree and its my belief that a leader cannot be taught in a classroom…

  3. denzil October 16, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

    This is an easy one, … the more people vote for you the better a leader you are!

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  1. Adaptive Leadership versus Authoritative Expertise | TomorrowToday's New World of Work Blog - May 16, 2013

    [...] Engage in new ways of learning that are risky, uncertain and messy: almost all leadership and management development programmes are designed to be safe, to have predictable outcomes and consistent processes. My South African business partner, Keith Coats, recently wrote about this on his blog. [...]

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