We’re in a Leadership Development Crisis – Now What?

We’re in a Leadership Development Crisis — Now What?

by Howard Prager

What’s not working with leadership development? Everything. What can learning leaders do? Here are a few ideas.

Yes, there is a leadership development crisis. But if learning leaders just buy another program or post one online, that won’t solve the problem. Learning executives need an incremental leap in developing leaders.

Consider the following stats from Advance Learning Group’s presentation “How C-Suite Executives and Senior Leaders View Leadership Development” (Editor’s note: The author works at the company):

  • Conservatively, $15 billion dollars is spent annually on leadership development in the United States alone.
  • Leadership development is a priority by two-thirds of companies surveyed, but not at all by one-third.
  • No key measures of leadership development exist, and 87 percent of companies do not formally measure it, which is up from 67 percent in 2012, according to i4cp’s 2015 Global Minded Leader Study.
  • Only 18 percent of organizations surveyed hold their leaders accountable for identifying and developing successors, according to a 2015 annual survey by Deloitte.

None of that is good.

A May 2014 Chief Learning Officer article titled “The Problem with Leadership Development,” asked the question, “Do leadership development programs produce positive changes in behavior and financial results?” The answer is: “We don’t know.”

What learning leaders do know is what caused this crisis:

1) Since the last recession, companies have limited their employee growth by adding non-employee contractors and outsourcing, keeping balance sheets cleaner and using cash for expansions and acquisitions, not for additional employees. They have fewer employees, fewer managers and less management training.

2) Managers spend far more time doing work than managing or leading. This is evident at every level of the organization, including senior executives.

3) According to a white paper by Nick Petrie of the Center for Creative Leadership, our world has changed greatly in the past 100 years, but teaching and learning methods haven’t — other than getting shorter or moving online.

4) Americans now and will work in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous — or VUCA — world, one that is team-based, global and virtual. Leadership training doesn’t reflect these changes and ways of working.

5) Too many good technicians get promoted to leadership without the skills, acumen, desire or training to be successful leaders. People who are good at leading, who want to be leaders and who will bring a culture of leadership and development to their organization should get these positions. They know the dual priorities of driving execution and developing people, each of equal weight.

What can learning leaders do? It’s a combination of actions such as:

  • Choosing the right people to be leaders, people who want to help develop others, continue to learn and drive results.
  • Recognizing the individual development needs of these leaders through assessments and discussions — grow the people who lead others.
  • Ensuring leadership development occurs at every level, including individual contributors and intact teams.
  • Enabling leaders to have the time to lead and not just be working managers.

Invest where it makes a difference:

business hierarchyFrontline: The first two management levels are most important for investment. Frontline leaders need skills to come fast, frequent and be accessible.

Middle management: Middle managers have done without during tight times and are way behind in development as a result. They need training now to prepare for the challenges they will face at higher levels.

Senior management: Senior leaders are not ready to move to the C-suite. Senior leader learning should be individualized for needed C-suite skills through 360-feedback, coaching, networking and mentoring younger managers.

Individual contributors: Individuals, especially those who lead project teams, make up the fastest growing number of new leaders. Too often seen as a low priority and bypassed for development, flatter organizations require leadership throughout.

Teams: Employees work, live and work on teams both live and virtually. To move towards high performance, intact teams need intact training.

Leadership development is in a crisis, but learning leaders can do something about. They must prepare those incremental leaps in development so managers and employees can become successful leaders. Now is the time to ensure employees at every level are prepared to take on appropriate leadership responsibilities. Like the leaders it serves, leadership development needs to evolve, be measured and be taken seriously to be successful.



This is important for our economic future well being as individuals and leaders.



Published August 12, 2015. Howard Prager is president of the Advance Learning Group, a development company. He is also an adjunct professor at St. Xavier University. Comment below or email editor@clomedia.com.

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