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3 Reasons Leadership Development is a Waste of Time

While there are probably dozens of ways that investing in leadership development is a waste of time, effort, and money, there are 3 big traps that show up over and over. Let’s take a look at common pitfalls that can derail all the good intentions and efforts. Hopefully this will significantly improve your ROI on leadership development programs.

1. The first way developing your leadership capability is a waste of time is when you don’t apply the lessons.

I see it all the time: a company spends good money on leadership development but somehow those leaders neglect to implement good training. Here’s an example, after one class I did on best practices in coaching employees I mentioned the high value return from simple one-on-ones done regularly. I had a participant from that class call me later to say he knows he should do them, but now that he’s been in his role for a while it seems odd to just start having one-on-ones. It was a fear of how his team would react. Add to this, he was younger than anyone on the team and that increased his fear. With a bit of coaching, and the development of an implementation strategy, he found the courage to step up. The value that was added was tremendous.

Here's the thing about one-on-ones, these are not a time for project reports, you can do that on a spread sheet. A one-on-one is about the development of the employee and should be mostly led by the employee. The simplest form takes very little time with three key questions: how are you doing? How is the team doing? How can I help?

Want to quickly destroy trust and lose all the benefits of a one-on-one? Be one of those all-too-common managers who schedule them and then cancel at the last minute. A key reason to do one-on-ones is to develop your direct reports and this, in turn, improves engagement – it ensures you will get hearts and minds supporting you and your goals. Use a bit of empathy, when an employee knows they’re up for a one-on-one with you they prepare for it and they generally look forward to it. How will they feel if you continually reschedule the meeting or end up continually canceling them?

2. The second way that investing in leadership development is a waste is when your organization contradicts what you are trying to do.

This is far more common than you might think. One example is when you are trying to lead by using autonomy, but the organization supports micromanagement. I worked with one company that gave people great freedom to travel as they needed to. Once we merged with a much larger company all travel had to be scrutinized and authorized at various levels. This trust-destroying process kills engagement and sends a message of fear and suspicion. Another example is when you work to give honest positive and corrective feedback to your employees, but your own manager does not provide you with helpful feedback. Gen Y and Gen Z thrive on feedback and it they don’t get it, don’t count on them being around long. Several years ago a study done by The Corporate Executive Board showed that key performance motivators are (brace yourself): letting people know what you expect of them, and letting them know how they’re doing.

3. The third way that investing in leadership development is a waste is when there is inconsistent rollout of the program.

Several companies I’ve consulted with have felt a need for a strong leadership development program, have rolled out multiple versions of leadership training over the years, but they don’t require uniform attendance and they don’t reinforce application of lessons learned. What does that accomplish? Your best leaders will attend because they recognize the need for their own development, but the ones who need it the most, will contend there’s nothing they can get from spending their time or money to participate. Therefore your best get better and the worse drag down their own teams. A company culture of development supports at least a minimum participation rate. Otherwise it becomes, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I encourage you to explore a rollout strategy that will work for you and your company and ensure great return on your investment.

Key Take Aways

There is incredible value in creating a culture of leadership development and learning. Don’t fake it, apply what you learn. Model that learning for other leaders in your organization. How do you model good leadership? Demonstrate trust, express empathy with your team, generate passion and success in reaching your goals. These efforts will not go unnoticed! Soon you will be recognized as a high-potential leader ready for more. Every company is different, I don’t believe there can be a one-size-fits-all solution so I encourage you to work with us to craft a plan that will bring you to the next level.


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