Something is Missing from Leadership Development Programs (and it’s Leaving Leaders Lost)

You know what’s difficult? Developing as a leader. You know what’s more difficult? Developing as a leader when there is little to orient the leader as to whether what they’re doing is making any difference. Leadership development, as a task, is a bear. It can be filled with confidence-breaking and doubt-ridden moments.

This self-doubt can be amplified when the leader feels under the microscope and under pressure to demonstrate improvement (often vaguely defined). Work can become an uncomfortable place and the ambiguity around the development process can really hinder its success.

One of the primary pitfalls of most leadership development engagements or programs is the lack of follow-through. Organizations, coaches, and leaders put significant effort into assessment, program design, training, and coaching on the front half of these engagements. But then it’s time for participants to head back out into the world and implement their newly learned skills… crickets. Commonly, leaders exiting a leadership development program get little support in the form of continued guidance or feedback.

And I get it – there is a business to run. Even organizations with the best intentions don’t have infinite resources to provide ongoing intensive support for every leader’s development. But leaving leaders entirely on their own to navigate their development and evaluate their own progress comes at a cost. When the support abruptly stops, all of the energy and resources put into the development process can be for naught. Why? Because without some guidance and support to stay the course, the leader isn’t afforded the opportunity to effectively transfer what they’ve learned.

From the leader’s perspective, this scenario can be demotivating and confidence shaking. In the worst cases, I’ve witnessed leaders come out the other side of development engagements worse than when they entered.

From my perspective, this occurs when there are factors present:

  • The expectation of “improvement” without specific goals
  • The lack of any measuring stick to determine whether improvements are occurring

This ambiguity leaves leaders without clarity as to what’s working and what’s not – or even what “working” looks like. They are left with no directional clues, and with no specific mechanisms in place to gather feedback. A self-driven leader can certainly solicit formal or informal feedback from colleagues, but this can often be inconsistent, anecdotal, or unreliable.

Without feedback, the leader has no compass for their developmental journey. And that’s a key word: journey. Leadership development isn’t something that happens over the course of a week at an off-site. Yes, it can begin there. Leaders can have formative, exciting, and motivating experiences in the initial events of a development program. But only through experience, time, and reflection do leaders make vast improvements in their approach. To make those improvements, they need a mechanism that identifies what’s working and allows for course correction when something isn’t.

So how does an organization protect its investment in development in a way that’s realistic for them but effective for the participants? Making a small investment in a tool that provides longer-term guide rails for leaders can be an effective way to maximize the ROI on development program.

Introduced in the fall of 2018, MRG’s Momentum is one such solution, offering accountability tools like action planning, goal setting, and pulse survey feedback to help leaders stay on track. Learn more about Momentum here.

About the author

Drew is MRG's resident I/O psychologist. When not at MRG, he's either with his family (most likely) or in his workshop (less likely). His stack of unread books is commendable.

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