Throughout my career, I must have attended at least a dozen leadership programs whose goal was to help foster leadership skills growth within the organization. Now while many of these were fun, and I did learn a bit about myself, I wouldn't say that the companies got anywhere near a decent return on their investment.  

And the reason for this is that although isolated one-off training can add value, that value is quickly diminished if it's not supported by an environment that not only supports but also promotes leadership development. 

According to a study from Bersin by Deloitte, organizations that embed leadership growth into their daily work processes see 37 percent higher revenue per employee and a 9 percent higher gross profit margin...and that's just the beginning. 

Given that companies are spending billions on leadership development you would think that this problem is pretty much solved. Yet 46 percent of business leaders say they do not have the support to lead a changing and diverse workforce, and Millennials especially, do not believe they are being developed as leaders, which doesn't bode well for the future.

To better understand where this disconnect is coming from I spoke with Andrea Derler, Ph.D.who was one the lead author of the study High-Impact Leadership - The New Leadership Maturity Model

Andrea said "the challenge comes from understanding how leaders are developed. Leaders need a variety of learning methods that include formal and on-the-job learning, coaching, learning with and from each other, and the relevant tools to do so.  

Interestingly the most important element turned out to be exposure to colleagues and client feedback, new contexts, and social networks. However, our global data set tells us that the majority of organizations (84 percent) primarily use formal learning for leadership development. While nothing is wrong with formal leadership programs--in fact, they are part of a holistic approach, the problem is that often they are the only approach."

So what can else can companies do to create an environment that ensures that their investment into leadership development is not wasted and that they see a great return on their investment.

According to the Andrea the study shows that these are the five most critical areas businesses should focus on.

Communication of the Leadership Model 

Your company needs to have a clear Leadership Framework, one that explains what your leadership model is, what can be expected of leaders and what leaders expect of others. This model not only needs to be clear, but it needs to be communicated clearly so that your organization has a shared, common understanding of leadership.

This will guide leaders and also allow the organization to hold them accountable for being leaders.

IBM is one of the leaders in this area, they not only have a framework but also have Leadership Ambassadors, they select 50 people each year who are identified as role models for the type of leadership the company is looking to foster within the organization and that they would like others to emulate.

Foster a culture of risk-taking.

Companies that have good risk-taking cultures are often the most innovative, and innovation helps to drive competitive advantage. We're not talking about gambling here; we're talking about creating an environment where people feel safe to speak up, to share new ideas, to challenge current ways of thinking. Taking the risk to contribute without the fear of being shot down. If your people are not comfortable talking about new/different ideas, then they are not going to be comfortable implementing them. 

Expose Leaders to other Leaders

While you can learn a great deal on a course, you can learn even more by working closely with and watching and talking other leaders in action. Look to set up a leadership exchange, where your leaders get together on a regular basis to share challenges that they faced and how they handled them. Bring in external leadership experts and speakers to talk about changes in leadership, or how people are leading in other companies. Leadership is a journey, not a destination and good leaders are learning all the time both from books and courses, but also from one another. These kinds of discussions allow people to get much deeper into topics, to understand the context and changes much better,

Create a Knowledge Sharing Platform

We live in an area of social media where many people are now used to using collaboration tools, sharing information and being able to reach out and ask for help or support. These types of platforms can be utilized to encourage leaders to share their thoughts and ideas, to cross-pollinate experiences to help one another develop. Leadership is not a solo sport, but often leaders are left to their own devices. Having the right tools in place can allow them to use these as a sounding board to discuss issues and potential solutions, refining them to maximize their impact and outcome.

Create a strong collaboration between HR and Business

Given that in order to achieve the benefits leadership development growth has to be embedded within the business, then there needs to be a strong collaboration between the Business and HR leaders. They need to work closely together on leadership growth activities. Leadership development cannot just be perceived as an HR topic. It's important that both HR and the Business have the same view of what leadership is, and support each other. 

At one company where I worked this wasn't the case, and the result was HR created an expensive leadership development program which was not just a waste of time and money but was also demotivating. People who attended the course said it was great, but it didn't reflect any of the current senior leadership practices, and that most people who led in this style were let go.

Leadership development is crucial for business development and growth, and you need to do more than just spend money on implementing a training course.  That's just one piece of the puzzle.

To be really successful you need to embed leadership development into the daily business.

Published on: Feb 20, 2018