Why does leadership training fail? Hint: It’s not about the curriculum

by on July 2, 2014 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Cafe

A week ago, we discussed the fact that leadership development is a critical component of training for forward-looking organizations — accounting for more than one-third of learning & development budgets.

But unfortunately, leadership development initiatives don’t always succeed. In a recent article in the McKinsey Quarterly, three McKinsey consultants pointed to several reasons why.

The one that stuck in my mind wasn’t about failings in the curriculum of any particular leadership program. Instead, it had to do with the mindsets of the leaders being trained.

They’re in control
Think about it: Why does anybody get to a place in an organization — whether in the C-suite or at the front-line supervisory level — where he or she is in charge of people? One big reason is that such leaders are capable of sizing up what people are doing in the workplace and either building on the trend, reversing it, or channeling it in the most productive direction.

This all assumes a measure of control. And when people who are used to being in control — indeed, who have succeeded so far because they know how to exercise control — are asked to work on leadership skills like delegation, motivation or communication, their existing mindset often gets in the way.

This means that leadership development programs have to address the issue of mindset. And changing the assumptions from which people proceed can be uncomfortable.

No pain, well, you know…
But if you’re not willing to make your leaders somewhat uncomfortable, the McKinsey folks suggest, you may not get as much out of your programs as you’d hoped.

Here’s what McKinsey says: “Just as a coach would view an athlete’s muscle pain as a proper response to training, leaders who are stretching themselves should also feel some discomfort as they struggle to reach new levels of leadership performance.”

So if you’re in charge of leadership development, or contribute to it in a significant way, you may want to ask participants in your next session whether it hurt. If it didn’t, maybe you’re not going deep enough to make a difference in your leaders’ everyday behavior.

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