Leadership Development

Why Leadership Development?

Jeffery Pfeffer (1998) notes that Japanese production plants provide 700% more training on first year new hires than their U.S. counterparts do. After that, they provide more than twice the amount. In addition, that training is not just about technical skills, but also the type you will find in leadership programs, such as general competence and organizational culture. The point he brings out is that they normally plan to keep their people longer, thus the need to help them grow and develop.

Laurie Bassi (2004) makes a similar case with her research that shows that U.S. firms that invest more in training outperform their counterparts in the stock market. And while the direction of casualty is hard to prove, she believes her data points to the training causing the performance, rather than the stock performance leading to more training. This is because they were providing the extra training before their stock rose.

Moreover, even the workers demand more training when they have the influence to do so. For example, when programmers were in heavy demand during the Y2K problem, many were demanding at least 80 hours of training per year, not only in new programming skills, but also in leadership and management skills.

Leadership Development Definition

Leadership development is the process of creating a environment that places a priority on learning the skills and knowledge that grows the organization both financially and spiritually.

Support of Leadership Team

A leadership development program should never be undertaken unless it has the full support and approval of the organization's leadership team. For example, you can give training on ethics as part of a leadership development program and it might be chock full of discussions, examples, activities, and even have a well-rounded test.

However, if the learners do not see the principles exemplified by the organization's leadership team, then the training is probably going to be a waste of time.

While the training will help the learners become more knowledgeable and give them a few skills, it is not going to instill a sense of ethos in them. That process is only going to come about through the actions of the organization, the interest and support that is put into such a program, and mostly by leaders who model the correct behaviors. This is because people mostly perform what their leaders emphasize.

And of course some might never really be motivated by ethics, even if it is modeled by the leaders, but at the very least, they will know the full consequences if they do act inappropriately.

Can Leadership be Trained Unless There is Consensus?

Not everyone will agree on a particular set of attributes and skills for leadership.

Leonardo da Vinci didn't sign up for a webinar to learn about the possibilities of flight. Rather, he wandered and studied birds. Gregerman (2007)

And like da Vinci, it is doubtful that most people take a class to learn if there is a possibility of leadership. Rather, they rip, mix, and mash the various literatures on the subject with their own knowledge-base and form it into something half-way intelligible that will best fit the context of their present environment.

Thus, like other terms and concepts, the consensus on leadership will fall into the wastebasket alongside of them. Because it does not really matter how or what we think it should be shaped into and if we all need to agree to it, but rather the experiences that we provide the learners so that they can best shape it into a concept that will give them the possibility to be better stewards of their organizations.

Perhaps when we are in our small circle of influence, we are able to put aside our differences and focus upon the points we do agree upon long enough to provide some type of common goals for the organization.

Critics of leadership development programs argue that spending scarce organizational resources on a program that normally does not pay off immediately is a waste of money. Yet, what is the most critical resource in today's modern organizations? People of course!

Left to their own ingenuity, the people in your organization can get you the results you need, however all those resources will not grow you one good person. Thus, the people are the most important asset that resources should be directed at.

Training should produce a result. However, developmental efforts differ in that it is much harder to obtain short-term results; however, it is not impossible to get results in order to show a Business Outcome.

For example, frequent feedback to subordinates is normally considered a means for promoting better performance, which should equate to higher profits. Thus “the students will learn feedback skills” is NOT a business outcome as it does not relate to a verifiable outcome.

A better business outcome would be “the learner's subordinates receive more frequent and better feedback” as a result of the learning initiative. The first outcome only told us what will be learned, while this outcome gave us a result than can be measured and verified.

Leadership and Management Development

Both concepts go hand-in-hand, thus they should be incorporated together in leadership development programs whenever possible. After all, good leaders do not set aside their leadership skills when they focus on the managerial aspects of the enterprise, nor do good managers set aside their managerial skills when they focus on the leadership side of the enterprise. And since both can be extremely complex processes, it is often hard to say where one begins and the other one ends (see The Four Pillars of an Organization for the difference between management and leadership).

Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today. — Malcolm X (1964)

Malcolm X wanted to provide a guide to a better life, not a set direction. Training is more about a set direction, while education and development are passports that can lead in many different directions. Thus, should an organization be so restrictive that it ties its most valuable resource, people, to today's problems, or should it also allocate a few resources to tackle tomorrow's challenges?

For the most part, training is a tool for solving today's problems, although there are of course exceptions. Our craft also includes education and development, which are tools for preparing for tomorrow (see The 70:20:10 Learning Model: A Path to the Past for a training strategy to develop skills for both today and the future).

The good part about training is that you normally know exactly where you are going because you are delving into a present problem. While education and development programs are more tied to growth in the individual for future needs of the organization, which can be hazy at times.

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Bassi, L., Harrison, P., Ludwig, J., McMurrer, D. (2004). The Impact of U.S. Firms' Investments in Human Capital on Stock Prices.

Gregerman, A. (2007). Rediscovering the Essence of Learning. Chief Learning Officer.

Pfeffer, J. (1998). Human Equation: Building Profits by Putting People First. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.