Why We Fail at Developing Leaders


We know exactly what it takes to develop effective leaders in our organizations, yet more than 90% of today’s organizations fail miserably.  Why is that?


Why, when we invest tens of millions of dollars, have access to thousands of books, hundreds of seminars, and a multitude of professional advisors available to us do we fail that miserably?  With nearly twenty five years of leadership development experience, there a number of reasons, yet I believe it comes down to the fact that we are challenged when managing the intangible and aren’t interested in looking incompetent, especially in the challenging times we all participate in today.


Let’s peel the onion back a bit.  What’s behind this somewhat bold statement?


·         We’d rather work ‘in’ the business than ‘on’ the business:    Most leaders come up the organization from a professional field.  That’s what we know and feel comfortable doing.  In times of stress, we dive into what we know, and fight the urgent fires that are burning.


·         We have chosen to delegate leadership development to others:  While I work with many business owners, the norm is that I am often working with the human resources or training staff of the organization.  They have a clear role, but leaders are in place to carry out the strategic agenda.  Business owners have a critical role in their development.


·         We often underfund new initiatives – Money, time and critical resources in the organization are very tight these days.  Still, the bulk of resources always go to the functional work and processes that have been central to the business for some time.  The number one reason for new business failure is that they are underfunded; the same is true with leadership development.


·         We have an underlying philosophy that what we can see, touch and measure get’s done –  There are effective ways to design, deploy and measure the success of our leadership development efforts; however, it is different than most work.  In addition, organizations are often measuring what they have data on, as opposed to what is most important to measure.


·         Our role models & leaders don’t often emphasize leadership development – When push comes to shove, we spend time on the projects that are sponsored and recognized by our superiors.  It takes character, integrity and resilience to do those things, and develop those around you.


·         We focus exclusively on the leadership training event – We know that any important effort, including leadership development, take planning, design and follow-up.  We know that without it, we offer little but a training event that will not stick.  Yet, 90% of what we offer to our managers and executives is all about the event.


If you see this as true, what might you do about it?  The annual planning cycle is again coming around.  Where prominent will leadership development be in your plan?  What type of resources will you allocate?  Who is the best executive to lead, champion and sponsor the effort, along with your training or human resource managers?  How will you support and change status quo with your energy, character and resilience?