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We are Failing to Develop the Leaders We Need

Every business needs leadership in some make, manner or form. When you ask a business owner how they might define leadership you’ll get a range of answers but on one thing you’ll almost always get agreement…more leadership is needed and our business would be more successful be if we had more leaders. Personally I am not so sure that if we have been trying to solve a problem it has been properly defined, that’s a problem itself.

That leadership is always in demand has historically led to a discussion of whether leaders are born or made. Based on the amount of money currently being spent on the development of leaders across the country  it is safe to say that there is no longer an argument, it is settled, leaders can be made…based on the investment…

“…U.S. companies have increased leadership development spending 14 percent over 2011 levels to an estimated $13.6 billion in 2012.”

                                                                                   Bersin and Associates

If you contrast the money being spent on employee engagement you’ll find the “spend” is about 13/1 in favor or leadership development. Business leaders vote with dollars and right now hands down leadership development is the favorite.

If you’re a larger employer you may have become accustomed to line items in your budget that amount to average annual investments like $1700/First Line Leader and $2700/ Mid Level Leader. By contrast owners in smaller businesses have a hard time justifying that kind of spending on their own development or training, never mind their managers. So based on the dollars spent a couple of conclusions you might draw are that either you’ll have to wait until you’re a large company with lots of discretionary money to be able to afford to develop the leaders you need or the way to get big is to start spending on leadership development now. Neither really seems very satisfactory.

In the opening paragraph I alluded to my belief, that the problem that needs solving has not been properly defined. I believe the answer lies somewhere outside the realm of current management thinking which is still dominated by command and control models and somewhere closer to work currently being done on employee engagement, though there is a lot of command and control there as well.

Mike Myatt, a contributor to Forbes, wrote a pointedly critical piece last year, ‘The #1 Reason Leadership Development Fails in which he was very blunt about much of what was being passed off as leadership development was in fact training…

“…when it comes to leadership, the training industry has been broken for years. You don’t train leaders you develop them – a subtle yet important distinction lost on many. Leadership training is alive and well, but it should have died long, long ago.
                                                                                    Mike Myatt

After reading the Myatt article I once more began thinking about why leadership spending so far outweighs that on employee engagement. My guess, and that’s all I have to go on, is that the programs being invested in somehow mirror the command and control models most business leaders are familiar with. “Leader” still equates to authority in the minds of many senior managers making these decisions and so the world still looks familiar. For most business leaders I still think engagement is too squishy, moreover lacking in control, which it is of course and is where its power comes from. Business leaders normally prefer the control/force model to the initiative/power model. Not because they are bad people but because they are normal.

But…there is some good news here, especially for smaller employers. I am in full agreement with Mike Myatt here…

“Don’t train leaders, coach them, mentor them, disciple them, and develop them, but please don’t attempt to train them.

When it comes to developing leaders you’d think we were breaking horses; a continual focus on indoctrination in process, technique and systems. No wonder the leadership training budgets are so high, we need to build fancy pens to herd leaders into, feed them three times a day and keep them away from the other horses long enough to get them to see things our way, the right way.

Am I being overly harsh? If you work in a big company you tell me.

For larger employers, it may be time to stop doing much of what you’ve been doing. For smaller employer take heart, your path forward may be easier. Real development doesn’t have the price tag that training does. But, you need to get involved. 

  • As coach
  • As mentor
  • As sponsor

As Mike Myatt says…

“Development is nuanced, contextual, collaborative, fluid, and above all else, actionable.”

It won’t be free, you have to be willing to invest your time, and that is precious but maybe you’ll learn something yourself along the way.

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