15/02/2012 - 10:26

Training alone won’t develop leadership

15/02/2012 - 10:26


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Why do so many people say they like the people they work with but not their manager?

WHY do so many people say they like the people they work with but not their manager? Every organisation needs the best managers and leaders it can find. If it doesn’t hire great leaders then it has to develop them.

Many organisations have some form of leadership development and many invest a fair amount of money in either formal or informal programs, such as customised in-house training, conferences, on-the-job training or executive coaching. A recent review of more than 90 years of research summarised what was happening around the world in regard to effective leadership development programs. There were several surprising findings that came out of this study.

Develop leadership capability not simply skills

The research found that most leadership programs develop individual leaders, not leadership capability. Individual leader development focuses on improving the skills and abilities of the person. True leadership development improves higher-level thinking, teaches self-guided learning, strategic and organisational capability, how to change cultures and build executive and leadership teams. Few programs actually develop leadership capability.

Have a clear definition of leadership in the specific organisation

Many programs don’t have a clear definition of leadership, so programs aren’t clear on what they are trying to develop. An agreed definition of good leadership within the organisation is necessary in order to develop leadership that will drive success in the specific context.

Have a clear model of leadership with-defined competencies.

Programs with an integrated leadership and management framework with clear competencies improve organisational outcomes. The content and segments of the leadership program should develop competencies needed by the organisation, not just a generic set of skills. These competencies then need to be embedded into the organisational systems to ensure that the development is supported back in the workplace. 

Developing leaders requires development, not training

Most leadership programs are about training, not development. Development involves learning how to think, problem solve and develop a more mature and integrated self. It is important to understand the level of development of the individual and the organisation and to use appropriate methods of development, not just training.

Customisation is essential to contextualise leadership development

Leadership development and associated competencies development need to be able to be modified to suit the challenges and specifics of each organiation. A set of core leadership and management competencies create a framework, which should be customised to ensure they are applicable to the specific organisational culture.

Teach the specific skills each person needs

Most programs teach the same skills to each individual but more effective leadership programs teach participants the specific skills they need to develop. Instead of everyone learning the same skills, find a way to tailor learning to each individual.

Use of proven leadership development methods

There are many proven leadership development methods. Some of the most common and successful methods used are: simulations; experiential exercises; 360 leadership profiles; and coaching and organisational projects. The most appropriate ones should be designed into the program in the appropriate place. 

Improve the performance of leaders who actively participate

Leadership programs generally improve the performance of the leaders who participate in them. There is less evidence to show that the organisation has benefited since little research has examined this question.  Longitudinal evaluation should be built into your leadership program to measure improvements at both an individual and organisational level.

Senior leaders’ involvement essential

Senior leaders’ involvement in the design and delivery of the program enhances the impact and ensures greater transfer of learning. They need to be excellent role models themselves. Senior leaders in one recent program were surprised because the junior leaders attending the program were pressuring them to improve their skills based on what they had learned. The senior leaders thought it was only the junior leaders who needed to develop leadership skills. 

According to this review, while leadership programs are generally effective, some are hopeless, a few are very good and a lot are mediocre. By incorporating some of the suggestions from the research you can substantially improve your leadership programs and your organisation’s leadership capability.


Ron Cacioppe is managing director of Integral Development, one of Perth’s most unique and experienced leadership and management consultancies. He is also adjunct professor at Curtin’s Australian Sustainable Development Institute. Lynda Folan is director of learning and leadership development at Integral Development.

Contact Ron or Linda on 9242 8122 | admin@integral.org.au


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