9 Reasons Your Leadership Development Program is Failing

October 19, 2015 — Leave a comment

A recent Bersin study reported that U.S. companies invest over $2,000 in leadership development initiatives per company leader. That’s great news. But is it worth the investment? Just because an organization has a leadership development program doesn’t mean it’s successful, does it?

I’ve been privileged to help develop several leadership development programs (LDPs) in my career and I can tell you no two are identical for the simple fact that people and organizations are inherently unique – different cultures, different missions, different situations. While I don’t believe there is a perfect approach to building an LDP, there are definitely pitfalls. If your organization has one – or is thinking of investing in one – don’t fall short for one of the following reasons.

Arrows Missing Dartboard

It’s Not Inspired

Most people say leadership is important, but when it comes to building an LDP, a deep-seeded belief in the power and potential of a leadership growth process is a must. This sounds obvious, but I’ve encountered enough executives and talent professionals who simply go through the motions. Unless someone somewhere has the heart for leadership – and the drive to build the infrastructure – your LDP will just become another project. “Belief in the cause” can’t be outsourced.

No Organizational Leadership Vision

As stated, your organization is unique. Because of this, you must have your own leadership vision. A leader on a battlefield will look different than a leader in the classroom. Your LDP needs to reflect those differences. I encourage each organization to kick off their LDP with a common theme: “What It Means to Be a [your organization’s name] Leader” – and go from there.

Executives Aren’t Involved

Some executives don’t place a high value on investing in leadership development. Others do, but fail to find ways to be involved. Both are big mistakes. Without an executive presence at some level, an LDP can have the feel (and support) of an overlooked side project.

Supervisors Can’t Lead

If you want to absolutely kill the momentum of an LDP interaction, cast a leadership vision for a group and then send them back to supervisors who can’t lead. The whole thing unravels before it begins. That’s one reason it’s important to start developing the leaders at the top of an organization first.

Inaccurate (or no) Needs Assessment

What ought to be in your LDP? Unless you’ve taken the pulse of your organization, you’ll likely miss out. What are your people’s main responsibilities? Where are they failing? What is changing in the environment? An off-the-shelf leadership solution may address some of these issues, but it will miss the unique needs of the organization.

Utilize Single Delivery Method

Some LDPs use a majority of computer-based training (CBT). Others exclusively use facilitators (instructor-led training – or ILT). Still others may revolve around an decentralized model (such as a mentoring program). The problem with a single approach is that people learn differently. It’s been said that it takes seven different delivery methods to get a message across. Don’t just rely on one approach, go for a variety.

No Reinforcement

How often have you attended a great event, generated a host of ideas, but then returned to work with a notebook that just collected dust? This is a common LDP challenge – and it’s completely avoidable. Pre-plan to reinforce key learnings through follow-up.

“One-Stop-Shop” Approach

Who is “in charge” of leadership in your organization? It shouldn’t be one group. Your HR or talent development team may be responsible for building the infrastructure and managing the projects, but they should never be the sole source of development. Each participant needs access to a community invested in his or her growth – supervisors, mentors, peers, local HR representatives, executive sponsors, etc.

Learning Outcomes Not Tied to Business Results

Feeling confident in the quality of your LDP is nice, but ultimately it’s not enough to justify the investment. Building an LDP should be a business decision preceded by a business case. Unfortunately, business results from LDPs are often tricky to quantify. Regardless, your LDP should have stated goals with specific success indicators that are measurable, such as higher bench strength, higher engagement scores, lower attrition, etc.

Building an LDP is a noble undertaking, but like most things in life, it can sometimes be harder than it looks. Don’t let that stop you. No LDP is perfect. One mark of high performing organizations is they bet on leadership. The important thing is to start – and adjust from there.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his new ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website  or follow him on Twitter.