Cheif Learning Officer Solutions for Enterprise Productivity

How to Eliminate Leadership Development Roadblocks

 -  9/25/13

Many leadership development programs fail because they fall into two common traps. Here’s how CLOs can avoid them.

According to a 2011 study by consulting firm McKinsey & Co., 76 percent of chief executives say it is important to grow their leaders. The problem is that only 7 percent think their organizations are doing it successfully.

As it turns out, CEOs aren’t the only leaders with this worry. It also hits close to home for learning executives — those with added accountability for development. And although learning organizations typically track hours and learning dollars per leader, it doesn’t always mean they’re actually improving.

This isn’t an unfounded fear. According to a 2010 report by Bill Gentry at the Center for Creative Leadership, half of leaders, or one out of every two managers at every level, are ineffective.

This isn’t to say leaders are unable to get better. Let’s review two practices that might be limiting the impact of leadership development efforts, along with few suggestions to increase the effectiveness of leaders:

Stop Overcomplicating Leadership

Many companies are breathing their own leadership exhaust. They cram programs full of “flavor of the month” approaches, and soon the bells and whistles overwhelm the value. Whether it’s a 10-page competency model, a complicated year-long program or assigned reading from the nearly 100,000 leadership books available on, organizations are overwhelming leaders. Eventually, the leaders will start to view leadership as hopelessly complex.

In practice, the essence of leadership is to master two behaviors. In 1945, researchers at Ohio State University studied the performance of International Harvester foremen. Effective leaders, the study found, showed consideration — treated employees like human beings — and initiated structure to be the two most important leadership behaviors.

These behaviors possess an inherent tension. Leaders can either make people happy or drive them to perform. The few who can do both are hard to come by; they deliver guaranteed prosperity to their company in the form of achievement, happiness, health and wealth.

Learning executives might consider anchoring development offerings around these two behaviors through two sequential steps. First, make sure leaders understand their current behaviors through assessments and feedback. Then, use development programs to round out their skills in both the people and results side.


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