Leadership development still missing the mark

Oct 22 2015 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Organisations throw billions at leadership development but as a new study highlights, they still seem unable to develop better leaders.

Leadership development is big business. In the US alone it is a $14 billion industry supporting tens of thousands of practitioners and outputting more books, articles, blogs and keynotes every year than anyone could possible consume in a lifetime.

But what sort of return are organisations getting on this investment? With such a proliferation of leadership development, coaching and training programmes, what sort of improvements are they seeing in the quality of their own leadership?

The short answer, according to a new study by Korn Ferry, the global leadership consultancy, is that much of this investment is being wasted. Not only are leadership development initiatives not delivering effective leaders, but many senior executives feel that their organisation’s approach to development is fundamentally flawed.

Korn Ferry’s “Real World Leadership” study of more than 7,500 executives from 107 countries found that only 17 per cent are fully confident that their business has the right leaders in place to execute their strategy. About half (56 per cent) were only “somewhat confident” in their leadership. Sixteen per cent did not believe their teams had the necessary leadership capabilities and a further 11 per cent were unsure.

Not surprisingly, this lack of confidence in their own leadership was reflected in executives’ attitudes towards the sort of leadership development their organisations provided. Over half (55 per cent) judged the return on investment on their development programmes to be only fair, poor or very poor and many felt that their leadership development approach was overdue a major overhaul.

“Executives we talked to said that if they could start over again they would throw out half their current leadership development strategies. To me this illustrates that while the business agenda has moved on, the development agenda has remained static,” said Steve Newhall, Managing Partner at Korn Ferry’s Leadership and Talent Consulting Practice.

Compounding this, the study also suggested that executives may be their own biggest barrier to achieving leadership development success, with respondents citing a lack of executive sponsorship as the largest barrier to successful implementation of leadership development programmes.

“Leadership development has to have senior stakeholder involvement - not just sponsorship but actual involvement,” Steve Newhall said. “Crucially, it also has to have measurement and follow-through to ensure that the desired changes, both in terms of the development of an organisation’s leaders and the business challenges they are responsible for tackling, are successfully delivered.”

“Connection to the organisation’s mission is getting lost at various levels of the workforce,” he added. “Without organisation-wide engagement, strategic change initiatives will not fully succeed. Senior leaders need to understand how to engage the whole business and ensure everyone within it understands what they are trying to achieve.”