Why Leadership Development Typically Fails

leadershipLeadership is not about your business card, it’s about taking someone or something (i.e. a team or organization) to a place they couldn’t get to on their own. Much more than motivation, it’s all about inspiration. Finally, like spirituality, it’s about “taking responsibility for what you create (how you behave) from moment to moment on a consistent basis.” (rational borrowed from Paul Chek).

Why Leadership Development Typically Fails..

First, typical Leadership Development fails because you can’t effectively teach it in the classroom (classroom = theory).

Second, it fails because traditionally there’s no effective “native” follow-up process incorporated in day-to-day activity.

Third, in over 30 years of professional experience across 5 continents & every stage company you can imagine, holistic (ho·lis·tic) Leadership Development programs are few & far between. In this context, holistic is characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole, as in the whole person, taking into account psychological, social factors / behaviors.

Monkey see monkey do..

Let’s start with the basics; we’re only 2.8 – 3% removed from our nearest ancestors, the chimpanzee. The old saying goes “monkey see monkey do”.. so it’s no wonder that +/- 40% of us are predominantly visually dominant learners. That said, the vast majority (some sources say as much as 90%) of effective learning and development takes place not in formal training programs, but rather on the job—through new challenges and developmental assignments, developmental feedback, conversations and mentoring (Monique Valcour).

Need convincing? Just this past weekend, while at a friends house in the Napa Valley, I noticed a GE Refrigerator replacement Water Filter sitting on the countertop of my friends kitchen. She told me how she had read the instructions for the 5th time a week previously before deciding to stop trying. I grabbed my phone & performed a YouTube search for ” replacing a GE refrigerator water filter”. After looking at the first 2 minute clip, I showed it to her, and within 2 minutes she had opened her refrigerator & replaced the water filter. Sound familiar? I can share with you thousands of similar examples, in any context, that I have experienced in professional & personal situations over the past +30 years.

The Real World is too often missing..

In order for effective Leadership to take root, one has to first witness attempted leadership on-the-job. This is a real world perspective that can’t be done in a classroom, and it most definitely can’t come about from a teacher or facilitator that doesn’t integrate your immediate set of circumstances and reality. In order for effective Leadership to take root & flourish, it needs regular & rhythmic follow-up in practice. It’s needs regular, rhythmic & constant feedback & adjustment. You have to regularly witness first-hand what’s changing month to month, quarter to quarter. How has the teams expected behavior, performance and results improved? How has the teams ownership of accountability & commitment to getting the right results played out? What is the real world day-to-day dynamics between the team and its leader? You can’t witness this in an authentic & transparent way unless you’re in a day-to-day work environment and have the practical experience onboard.

Leadership is something you have to do..

More than talk about leadership, you have to show leadership in the way you live, move, think, breath, rest & eat. The most effective education, and you need only remember how a 2-3 year old infant learns, is a holistic & experience based education practice. An education based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community of its’ natural (and relevant) world.. i.e. experience. I call this Native Leadership, and it creates an immediate and inspirational sense of “belonging”.. one of the most significant elements of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs.

To summarize..

If anything short of a holistic approach works effectively in any other aspect of your life, why would you expect it to work here? You need to take Leadership Development out of the classroom & into the workplace. I’ll go even further, you need to extend Leadership Development all the way to the home. Your Leadership Development program can start with basic understanding and communication of the principles in the classroom, but unless you get immediately practical & relevant to an individual’s workplace (& life in general), at best you will have only completed a great theoretical exercise, but never an effective & practical one. Leadership needs to become 2nd nature, it needs to be a 24×7 practice.

What does your Leadership Development program look like? How does it go beyond a theoretical practice? How does it incorporate translation of strategy into operations? How have you integrated the most effective, and right for your unique DNA, continual development practices? How does it incorporate emotional intelligence & fundamental accountability principles that get teams committed to doing the right things that bring about the right performance & results?


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