Stop Wasting Money on Leadership Development and do Something Different:Part 2

collborative leadership learningIn our first article we put forward the view (supported by studies)  that much leadership development isn’t working . I just came across yet another study this time from from Direct Dimensions International (DDI)  conducted in 20111from 2500 organizations where only 34%  of leaders indicated their leadership development was effective and a rather small 18% of organizations thought they had an adequate leadership pipeline.

We have already discussed the importance of self directed learning and creating the conditions that foster intrinsic motivation. ( If you missed it you can read part 1 of this article right here)

In this article I want to talk about the triumph of process over content. So what do I mean by “process over content” in the context of developing leadership programmes?  Simply I think it is the assumption that great content packed into a short as a time as possible is how we create transformation in our leaders.

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What we sometimes forget is that human beings are complex and developing leadership capabilities is not the same as delivering a project on time or launching a new product. Human beings  learn in different ways and  not only that they don’t always learn what we expect them too either. We are still surprised after many years what learners highlight as their takeaways when we do a learning review on a leadership programme. It is a great reminder that neuroscience informs us all our brains are different, more than that they are unique.

The process of human learning and development is not linear , a bit messy and still somewhat mysterious.

Being content led and force feeding ideas runs the risks of disengaging the learner. We are organic beings and not putting enough attention on creating the learning processes that support a rich and nurturung  learning environment leads to sub-optimal learning and leadership development. So here in our view is one of the  most important supportive learning processes to balance the content on your leadership development programmes.

Get People to Collaborate and Grow Together:

Our brains are heavily wired towards social connectiveness with others. There is some truth in the saying “it takes a whole village to raise a child”   and it applies equally to adults and their learning. In a supportive community where trust allows the safe sharing of ideas and access to different perspectives the rate of learning can be exponential. It is also potentially a place where you can talk about things that you just wouldn’t feel comfortable in discussing with your boss or immediate peers.

Leaders grow best in a leadership community. There’s an exponential impact when people have the opportunity to share and learn from one another in a safe environment where they can be open and authentic. One of the most frequent comments we receive  from participants is how much they appreciate the opportunity to discover “I’m not the only one facing a particular challenge.”

You can achieve this leadership community by creating cohorts in you leadership programmes   and purposefully creating opportunities for people to become more at ease with each other. You can also design in processes to allow others such as peers. line managers and executives to become at least part time members  of that leadership community as they step in and put of the leadership programme at different times.

You can support the effectiveness of these leadership communities with targeted communication skills training on questioning and clarifying and coaching and mentoring skills. One specific example of this is when Leadership By Design partnered with  the New Zealand Coaching & Mentoring Centre to provide group mentoring skills training as part of a larger leadership development programme we designed.  The evaluation data clearly told us that this had been a great learning support to the vast majority of the leadership learners with most  of them continuing their peer mentoring sessions after the end of the formal leadership programme. It has been a great reminder to us of the importance of collaboration in learning programmes.

And it is actually getting easier to support collaboration! 

Many leaders are becoming more familiar with social networking and now there are lots of options to create collaborative distance learning spaces that encourage reflection and connection.  If you are not already using your intranet or thinking about developing internal wikis, blogs and other forums where people can ask questions and share useful information you are missing out on  valuable learning opportunities.

The modern work environment is busy and continuously changing. To learn best leaders need to find time to reflect and integrate their knowledge and practice and talking with others might just turn out to be one of the best possible ways to do that. Another benefit is that  in order to share our own experiences with others we have to find the words to summarize and capture our own meanings; this by itself can lead to greater clarity and self awareness.

Learning is at least in part social and it turns out listening to others views and ideas gives us  a wider range of experiences to reflect about and gain insights and motivation.

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5 Global Leadership Development Trends from CCL

brain approach to learningThe new annual report from the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) is out commenting on global leadership development trends.

We know you are busy so here are the headlines of the 5 significant trends

Get your brain in the game

Discusses advances from neuroscience on the impact of perceived threats and stress on brain function

“The connection between stress and brain function is one area of neuroscience that will “change the landscape of leadership development,” predicts Marian Ruderman, senior fellow and research director. “Advances in neuroscience are giving us insight into how people learn and remember, how we manage our emotions, how we behave in the moment, and how we build long-term resiliency.”

Interested in reading more on this check out Grahams article on brain function and fostering resilience here

Expand the Leadership Equation

Is about the democratisation of leadership development training and opening up wider access particular to those that traditionally can’t afford it. It asks the question what would the world like if all who wanted to could get access to leadership development?

“The truth is, investing in leader development isn’t an exact science,” says CCL’s Joel Wright. “Often a leadership program has a way of waking someone up to their own potential. When you find ways to get leadership development to a broader group, you’re guaranteed to have some surprising wins!”

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Nurture Your Networks

This is about interdependent leadership.  A nice quote from the report is “Consider this: Five percent of the people in your organization hold 30 percent of the relationships. Even fewer hold the ties that bridge organizational roles and functions. And most of your relationship “brokers” aren’t considered formal “leadership.”

Networks of  relationships  hold together strategic initiatives and projects and its time we got more focused on supporting these networks in the organisation that are responsible for getting things done.

Power Up Non-Profit Partnerships

This is about the under investment in leadership development in the non-=profit sector. The non-profit sector is growing and the environment is demanding leaders that can help their people and organisations navigate through change. The report outlines a current capacity gap in non-=profits in North America a telling statistic is “46% of non-=profits only have cash reserves for 3 months” and calls upon organisations to foster non-profit partnerships to help develop much needed leadership capability.

Elevate Coaching Impact

This is about using coaching more strategically in organisations. Coaching works and one of the key reasons is that it is individualised and personal which permits self-directed learning. The trouble is how to organisations evaluate the impact of coaching? Most coach training organizations do not evaluate their trained coaches after their training.

“In the current economic environment, executive teams have to accomplish more with fewer resources,” says Corrine Ferstad, an executive coaching consultant for CCL-EMEA. “Coaching is seen as a good investment for developing key leaders to work smarter, build leadership skills and handle complex challenges.” Coaching approaches can create huge impact but to be used more strategically and creatively we need to find smarter ways to measure this impact.

You can read the report in full right here.

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Who’s Responsible for Motivation the Leader or Team Member?

leadership and motivation Is it every staff member’s responsibility to be self-motivated or is it the leader ‘s obligation to encourage their workers? It is an intriguing question and gets right to the heart of the “struggle for employee engagement” going  on in an organization near you.  This question reminds me a little of the nature against versus nurture debate, who is mainly responsible for individual and team motivation?

If you  look up at the dictionary definition of the  word responsible:

“Having a responsibility to do something as part of a job or function. Being the primary source of something and so able to be blamed or credited for it.”

Will certainly I do not think either party has a responsibility, although the leader can plainly impact on a persons motivation as can the staff member on their very own motivation. I don’t feel you could possibly say the Leader  is the main reason for a persons motivation either.

So on balance certainly it must be weighted towards the employee?

Instead of an obligation or a duty surely motivation is more of a discretionary option? We all have a choice where we can select exactly how much effort, how difficult we work, exactly how passionate and imaginative we might be at work. Some people can easily tap into their personal motivations even  in the most extreme of scenarios or hard atmospheres. Plainly others respond more acutely to their environment and will certainly have a tendency to blame circumstances and other people for their feelings. They may not feel they are knowingly opting to be demotivated but I still feel they have opted  out of or not felt empowered enough for what ever reason to decide to be motivated.

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On the other  side of the coin wise companies can purposely attempt to foster the atmosphere, select the right individuals and create the relationships that “stack the dice” in the favour of their employees being more motivated . However there is no guarantee of success in any specific individual instance but we know enough about good workplace and leadership practice to comprehend the actions and leadership behaviors that will certainly support team motivation and most individuals’ self motivation.

Or do we?

Possibly the appallingly low average engagement  scores we see in studies form many countries  indicates that in fact there is not a good grasp of the fundamental principles of human motivation?

Personally I suspect some companies put far too much reliance on pay and rewards as motivators and think they have ticked the boxes by paying people well.  However we know that many  “people leave bosses rather than organisations .” so there is still a fundamental disconnect on the  individual leader’s role in facilitating a “win:win”  between the employee and company’s desires and outcomes.

Until we get a grasp of that reality we will continue to waste the productive potential of our people in our organizations.
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Stop Wasting Money on Leadership Development and do Something Different.Part 1

The past few years have seen a greater focus on leadership development perhaps not surprisingly after the GFC fall out, but what is the return on investment? In September 2011 IEDP, in association with Deloitte’s Leadership practice, surveyed over 300 executives on their perceptions and experiences of leadership development. The results were disappointing if not unsurprising. Just 7.9% of leaders rated their current leadership as very effective and a 4.3% their leadership development as very effective

So why so much dissatisfaction over leadership development?

The Leadership by Design view is that in spite of 20 years of research and identification of clear adult learning principles this understanding is not being effectively translated into business leadership development design and practice.

Check out our free 22 page E Book Leadership Strategy Demystified here

We believe there are a number of factors, so in this short article let’s start with perhaps the most important thing to incorporate into your design of any leadership intervention.

How to Facilitate a personal motivation to change?

Learning has to be thought of as a personal change process. Leaders only commit to development that they can see a personal pay off for. When asked in the Deloitte survey what development is most effective for leaders? the overwhelming response (60%)was creating a  personal development plan , or (47%) development  aligned with their own career aspirations. These high preferences have also been echoed in previous Corporate Executive Council Research.

The bottom line is if you want to roll out company wide leadership capability building programmes you have to find out about and work with the individual agendas of your trainees and not just the company agenda .

Neuroscience tells us the same thing: we are hard wired to prefer to be autonomous and we have a preference  for our own ideas . Clearly the most effective learning is self-directed.

Also, we need to acknowledge that change is hard at an individual human brain level. Most people are experts at rationalising their own behaviours and finding excuses/reasons  not to change. Leaders need to be actively helped to understand themselves their impact on others and their strengths and weaknesses. They need to develop a mental model of how they could be better or improve and they need to see a clear benefit for embarking on that journey.

Without that clarity motivation and engagement  is inconsistent at best, as is learning application.

If we want to generate real business impact from our leadership development interventions we believe we need to design in 2 things:

  1. To incorporate individualised activities that take account of the learners goals
  2. Treat the leadership development intervention  as an organisational change activity.

Practically that means designing in some or all of the following :

  • Thinking around how the leadership intervention is communicated and contextualized,
  • How all stakeholders are co-opted to support the change,
  • Using feedback, diagnostic  and reflective  tactics to help leaders clarify for themselves where they are and where they need to be.
  • Helping leaders to plan and systemise their action
  • Providing support mechanisms to help them keep focused and learning from their experiences.

You may think some of the above is common sense . All we can say is that we agree with Voltaire “Common sense is not common”  In our experience Leaders have already invested heavily in their existing behaviours and need some help in reflecting and clarifying for themselves why changing might be a good idea going forward.

Not to recognize how important this is for learning is liable to mean you are wasting your organisation’s money and time .

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Is Investing in Leadership Worth the Hype?

leadership impactOk a slightly provocative question perhaps?  But do we think of leadership development as a necessary “retention cost” or an investment in culture and organisational performance?

Comprehensive research presented at the Future Jobs Forum in Australia in October 2011 identified that positive leaders and progressive management practices are central to increasing productivity in the workplace.

An 18 month Australian landmark study by the Society for Knowledge Economics, found that companies with strong leadership and a positive workplace culture are significantly more productive and profitable than their less progressive peers.

The report – Leadership, Culture and Management Practices of High Performing  Workplaces: The High Performing Workplace Index –followed 18 months of research involving more than 5,000 employees. The report found that High Performing Workplaces (HPWs) have 12 per cent higher productivity than Low Performing Workplaces (LPWs) when ranked in terms of their innovation, employee engagement, fairness, leadership and customer satisfaction.

What’s more, it found that the quality of an organisation’s leaders and their ability to innovate and create positive employee experiences was directly related to the organisation’s financial performance and productivity –

the average profit margins of HPWs are three times higher than those of LPWs.

The study demonstrates that leaders in higher performing organisations prioritise people management as a key priority, involve their people in decision making processes; are more responsive to customer and stakeholder needs;  these more effective leaders also encourage a high degree of responsiveness to change and learning orientation, and enable their staff to fully use their skills and abilities at work.
The identified high performing organisations are not just much more profitable and productive, they also perform better in many important “intangible attributes”, such as encouraging innovation, leadership of their people, and creating a fair workplace environment.

This was a landmark report when it was released and it provides some interesting measures of leadership impact .

Check out the full report here

As someone who has been working within or consulting to organisations for many years, it still astonishes me that the concept of Leaders and the environment they create having an impact on the performance of their organisation is seemingly a revolutionary idea.  Talk to any employee of a large organisation for any length of time and they will be very clear for you what impact their Leaders and Managers have on them and their motivation and capability to be successful.

So why aren’t more organisations focusing on the key leadership attributes and management practices that improve productivity and profit?

Well there are probably a number of reasons from budget pressures to competing priorities or a lack in confidence in training and development return on investment.

Whatever the excuse, under investing in your leadership capability carries a huge opportunity cost. I  passionately believe (and always have) that building leadership capability through properly designed leadership programmes has a huge impact on  change agility, engagement, organisational and team performance, it looks like the research continues to back this up!

Not sure on how best to develop your leaders’ capabilities to turn  your organization into a High Performing Workplace? Well we are happy to offer you a free no obligation white board and coffee session to help you get clearer on your questions and possible solutions. Click here to contact us

Leaders are from Venus and Mars

I noticed some new 360 UK survey analysis findings  from Talent Innovations on leadership gender differences. To be honest I usually get irritated by “Men are from Mars and Women from Venus” type articles and the often unsubstantiated generalizations. However  this  analysis is based upon 14,000 360 feedback summaries from UK leaders and managers so I figured it was worth a look.

Talent Innovations  tried to identify the differences in how men and women were rated against a set of 18 generic managerial and leadership competencies.

In summary, women scored higher than men in the competencies of planning and managing activities, respect & empathy for others and personal responsibility. Men score higher in strategic vision, commercial focus and personal impact. They tend to be less socially-sensitive and are more focused on the rational, practical and commercial aspects of achieving results.

There was no information on how the ranges of results by gender overlapped each other.

According to Elva Ainsworth, managing director of Talent Innovations “Men and women tend to excel in different aspects of leadership. The ‘male leadership style’ is strategic and visionary, while the ‘female leadership style’ is more social.”

On one hand, this study highlights the general areas in which men and women may need leadership development. However, on the other, it suggests that the natural styles of men and women could be complementary.

It might be an interesting question to ponder: Would a culture that supported diversity and a better balancing of both types of leadership  could bring about higher organisation performance?

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The Myth of the “Lone Ranger ”

extroverted leadershipWestern culture, particularly in business and politics, seems to be in love with the charismatic leader — the guns blazing, no-holds barred, centre-of-attention leader, who is a super-confident, aggressively decisive leader of a band of star-struck followers.

It is an interesting question why do we value extroversion in leaders?  Is it something to with our individualistic society?

And in love we are! 

Research from the  Academy of Management Journal reported that whereas just 50% of the general population is extroverted, 96% of managers and executives display such personalities.

I have to say these figures don’t really reflect my personal experience in NZ corporates but the point is well made.

According to the aforementioned journal study, the higher you go in a corporate hierarchy, the more likely you are to find highly extrovert individuals. ( I think you could put together a persuasive  case that the GFC and Wall Street financial scandals and even foreign policy and political problems are linked to the dominance of extroverted leaders.)

The Academy of Management Journal research (Francesca Gino of Harvard University and David Hoffman of the University of North Carolina,) shows a significant correlation between the types of leadership style needed and the personalities and behaviour of employees.

They argue that extroverted leadership commands attention: being assertive, bold, talkative and dominant, providing a clear authority, structure and direction. However, pairing extroverted leaders with employees who take the initiative, are more independent and speak out can lead to conflict, while pairing the same type of employees with an introverted leader can be more successful.

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The study also showed when employees are more proactive, introverted managers lead them to higher profits, whereas where employees are not proactive, extroverted managers are more successful. They concluded that introverted and extroverted leadership styles can be equally effective, but with different kinds of employees.

It could be that the status and reputation of quiet, introverted leadership is undervalued and under-appreciated.

It is clear extroverts are still favoured in recruiting and promoting decisions. Yet recent research reveals that introverted, quiet leaders may be more suited for today’s workplaces.

“Introverts are more receptive to people since they tend to listen more than extroverts,” Gino says. “The fact they are more receptive is due primarily to their ability and willingness to listen carefully to what others have to say without being threatened.”

One thing is for sure. The workplace is populated by increasing numbers of intelligent, knowledge workers, frequently in self-managing teams, particularly those of Generation Y.

Many of these workers don’t see themselves as passive employees waiting for orders nor do they want to be controlled by an egocentric extroverted leader. So maybe the time is right for us to embrace the  introverted leadership style or at least look for a better balance in leadership styles in some of our organisations.

I would be interested in any views from senior leadership recruiters out there do we place too much weight on being an extrovert?.

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learning survey

2012 UK Learning Trends Survey

Just in case you missed it, the 6 monthly UK Learning Trends Survey from GoodPractice was released a month or two ago.This survey of 250 Learning and Development professionals  provides a  UK sector learning and development pulse check.

I always wonder how survey results would vary if it included stakeholders outside learning and development. Nevertheless it tells us something about the mood and perceived priorities in the UK and we might be able to make come connections with the New Zealand economy.

Key survey findings included

A continued focus on Leadership Development

When considering the most critical areas of L&D focus for the next six months, leadership development remains the most important area of focus at 45%. Although leadership development continues to be ranked above all other issues, the gap between it and the next most critical issues (namely management performance, performance management and talent management) has closed. For example, the development of middle and senior management, talent management and performance management initiatives have all seen a renewed focus. These three areas are ranked equal second in terms of importance at 35%.

Check out our free 22 page E Book Leadership Strategy Demystified here

Organisational efficiency should still be your primary driver

Maintaining organisational efficiency remains the primary driver for L&D, ranked above all other issues at 67%. This emphasis on efficiency demonstrates a more commercial, results-driven approach to learning provision. Given the challenging economic conditions, the pressure on L&D to provide value and be cost-effective is now central to its very existence. This focus on organisational efficiency demonstrates a move towards a more commercial, results-driven approach to learning provision.
Don’t ignore social media

The latest Learning Trends survey highlights the expanding role played by social media across the L&D landscape. 56% of learning managers predict an increase in the use of social media tools in their L&D solutions in the coming six months – an increase of 10% from the previous survey. As interest in, and demand for, social media to support learning gathers pace, L&D’s role should be about encouraging the use of relevant social media tools to ensure they have a positive impact on the overall learning experience.

A greater emphasis on informal learning

In the survey, 57% of learning managers highlighted increased budget support for informal learning – an increase of 10% on the previous survey. More organisations are beginning to identify and harness the benefits of informal learning. As traditional, face-to-face learning delivery comes under pressure from financial and efficiency perspectives, informal learning has become more prevalent. It is unclear in the survey if this a deliberate strategic choice and or a symptom of cost constraints.
Overall the survey was upbeat about the emerging role of L+D in the next year which is a good thing. In a nutshell I think the survey tells us what we already know , make sure your activities  are strongly anchored in the business strategy, deliver a blended range of effective and efficient learning practices and opportunities and recognise the reality that most people learn most whilst being challenged on the job.
You can access a free copy right here

Not sure what you might need to develop your leaders business impact or how to unlock a teams potential  ? Well we are happy to offer you a free no obligation white board and coffee session to help you get clearer on your questions and possible solutions. Click here to contact us


How Well Do We Learn From Success?

We hear a lot about learning from failure but what about learning from success?

How  clear are leaders about the reasons for success  and are peoples judgments about what has generated success accurate and realistic?

Are we doomed only to pay attention and collect the learning’s and insights when we fail?  Well post GFC hindsight is now suggesting that many firms enjoyed their successes rather than learned from them in the boom times.

If you adopt the view that leadership and adaptive learning are strongly related, then a misunderstood success is a leadership as well as a learning failure. By not reviewing systematically we are breeding future failure .

Check out our free 22 page E Book Leadership Strategy Demystified here

Much research seems to indicate that as leaders we tend to overestimate our impact and give more credit too our talents than warranted and give less credence to things outside our control like luck or other external factors. The implication here is that they fuel our success and status hard-wiring meaning of course we tend to reinforce our existing behaviours making it less likely for us to feel the need to change anything. Recent research from the University of Washington confirms this view. When we feel confident we tend to place more weight on own opinions as compared with others

Check out this TED Talk which has an interesting take on learning from failure

We are also hardwired to look at the “squeaky wheel” and deconstruct it or at least worry about it, leaving little time or perceived benefit for reviewing the causes of good performance.

So being too busy and not reviewing successes is akin to leaving money on the table. 

We need more systematic ways to review our activities. So action learning approaches, after action reviews and 6 Sigma can be helpful disciplines in testing the assumptions about what is needed to achieve and reproduce great performance.


Check out our free 22 page E Book Leadership Strategy Demystified here

Back to leadership by design

Critical components of developing leadership capability :CCL

When you are designing and developing leadership development programmes here are some key design components from the Centre for Creative Leadership

  • Balance content between understanding complexity /quick action
  • Create job-related activities
  • Emphasise immediately-applicable skills
  • Focus on implementation skills as well as problem-solving and decision-making
  • Make participants accountable for their learning progress
  • Structure programs around short ongoing sessions rather than long one-time events
  • Use practical, concrete content, not theoretical or academic material


Not sure on how best to develop your leaders’ capabilities?  Well we are happy to offer you a free no obligation white board and coffee session to help you get clearer on your questions and possible solutions. Click here to contact us