The Slovenia Times

How Not to Develop Leaders - and How to Do It Right


"A failure to execute on strategy and change organizational behavior is rooted not in individuals' deficiencies but, rather, in the policies and practices created by top management". - Professor Michael Beer, Harvard Business School

What are the primary factors that make training ineffective? The Harvard study points to:

  • Unclear direction on strategy, leading to conflicting priorities among business functions.
  • Senior leaders who "don't work as a team" and create a "top-down" culture where obstacles to effectiveness go unacknowledged.

In other words, a lack of strategic clarity and support from leadership renders training useless. You might as well inject yourself with inert saline solution in hopes of preventing disease-it won't work.

How is this so? Because of this typical scenario:

An employee is identified as a potential leader. She is scheduled to attend a leadershiptraining course, where she is inspired and motivated by new ideas and learns about new skills. Afterwards, she returns to her unit. No one asks her about her training experience. No one is interested in the new ideas she picked up. No one expects her to practice the new skills she learned about; in fact, her few halting attempts backfire: "That's not how we do things around here."

Because her new knowledge has little or no relevance to the organization's priorities, it quickly evaporates.

Strategic Clarity Is Essential for Training to Be Effective

For training to be effective, there must be strategic clarity across the organization. Training must support goals that are specific, clearly understood, and universally shared. FranklinCovey research shows that only about 15 percent of workers know the top goals of the organizations they work for.(2)

Also, leaders must fully buy in to the behavior change expected from the training. They must account to their own line leader and hold their team members accountable for change. They must coach their people "so that they can practice the new attitudes and behaviors required to meet organizational goals," as Professor Beer puts it.

In a scenario like that, our potential leader doesn't just "attend a training seminar." She and her boss are crystal clear on top organizational priorities and how the training supports them. The boss regularly and frequently coaches her as she practices her new, highly relevant skills.

Is that kind of strategic approach to leadership training worth the investment?

Absolutely. In that scenario, training becomes one of the most potent steps you can take in reaching your most important goals.

Organizational Commitment to Strategic Leadership Development Correlates Directly With Business Performance

Chief Executive magazine commissioned a study to determine the value of this approach to leadership development. This was their conclusion: "Study data over a decade shows that firms ranked highest among the best companies for leaders generate greater market value over time, suggesting that an organizational commitment to leadership development correlates directly with business performance. The top 15 percent of study companies grew market cap by 122 percent, while the bottom 15 percent grew market cap by 37 percent," as this chart shows.(3)



From The Fifth Annual Global Leadership Research 2015, Chally Group Worldwide, 13.


This research clearly shows that organizations that invest in strategic training enjoy much more market power than those that don't.

How do you get to that place?

Who Can Help?

You need a partner who can help you make the entire journey from strategic clarity to change at the level of the individual contributor.

The criteria for selecting a leadership-training program vary. Some courses are more interactive or more competency based or more blended. But without the proper strategic context, none of these considerations make much difference-the training won't work regardless of the medium or the method. Rather than weighing one leadership course against another, senior leaders should not be thinking about "courses." Instead, they should be thinking about business results, and which partner can help them get those results and develop their leaders at the same time.


(1) Beer, Michael, Magnus Finnström, Derek Schrader, "Why Leadership Training Fails-and What to Do About It," Harvard Business Review, October 2016.
(2) FranklinCovey xQ data, available on request.
(3) The Fifth Annual Global Leadership Research 2015, Chally Group Worldwide, 13.


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