The 4 Things You HAVE To Do To Make Leadership Development Really Work

leadership developmentEvery company has some kind of leadership development program, even if they don’t realize it.

As soon as a supervisor, manager, director, vice president, senior vice president, executive vice president, or C-suite executive is hired, they “develop” as leaders – that is,  from the moment they start working they are molded by the circumstances and people that they encounter.

Some companies let that development happen organically – otherwise known as “on the job training”.   That was the situation I was in back in 1987, when I was thrown head first into the leadership pool at age 27, as the new COO of a cable TV company.  The lessons came the hard way (see my e-book for one particular mistake that took months to undo).

Other companies recognize that they can positively influence that development by providing third party programs, seminars, courses, books, lectures and other forms of formal training to their leaders.    There are a LOT of resources out there that can bring an additional perspective to the real life day to day experiences, and shape and alter the development in a positive way.

But outside training also has some big drawbacks.  My friend Mike Myatt summarized the issues well in a recent Forbes piece:

“Training is often a rote, one directional, one dimensional, one size fits all, authoritarian process that imposes static, outdated information on people. The majority of training takes place within a monologue (lecture/presentation) rather than a dialog. Perhaps worst of all, training usually occurs within a vacuum driven by past experience, not by future needs.”

Mike nailed the key point- there’s a contextual vacuum in most outside training programs that, if not addressed internally, can significantly lessen their effectiveness as a development tool.

I experienced that first-hand at my next cable TV company – we were sent to an intensive three-day offsite leadership seminar that presented a particular approach to effective leadership, using several hypothetical exercises with ad-hoc attendee teams to “lock in” the concepts.   It was a valuable three days for me, but, when I returned to the real job, there was no internal effort by the company to reinforce and reapply the concepts and terminology I had worked on at the seminar.

Consequently, I’d estimate 75% of the benefit from the training was “lost”, as the demands of the real job shoved many of the lessons to the back burner.

Then there are the companies that choose to take a more holistic approach to leadership development, and here is where you’ll find the greatest success.

Why?  These organizations do the things they HAVE to do to make it really work, and it goes well beyond “on the job” and third party trainings.

Basically, there are 4 things that these companies do:

1) The executives make a personal commitment to leadership development as a high business priority – this quickly takes it clearly out of the “on the job” category, and sends a clear signal to the rest of the company

2) They choose and/or develop formal programs that bring a better contextual “fit” to the actual business – there is much time and consideration given to sorting through all of the available options, with an eye towards effectively integrating the concepts into the day-to-day business

3) The frameworks that come out of the leadership programs are relentlessly reemphasized, and put into practice, every day, especially by the executives themselves – it’s all about relating the theory to the actual practice, and making learning just as much of an expectation as performance.

4) The company expects their leaders to to pay their learning forward, as one-on-one mentors – this is the ultimate step, in that by making teaching part of the job description, it essentially cements leadership development directly into the process flow, into the evaluations, and into the “bloodstream” of the company.

You know where you can find these kinds of companies – at the top of their industries.   Take a closer look behind their success, and you’ll find those four things in practice.

They have a simple concept that drives them – better leaders build a better company.

Follow their lead, and build a better company of your own.


  1. says

    My favorite managers have been those who helped me more than average to advance in the positions. I believe that the most important responsibility of leadership is to develop and encourage others in their own careers.

  2. says

    Snappy article with well made points which apply to pretty much any training which is designed to change/improve behaviours


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