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4 Reasons Leadership Training Programs Fail and How to Ensure Yours Succeeds


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Every year, companies spend billions of dollars on leadership training. While developing my leadership development program, I’ve talked to hundreds of chief executives. In every case, they state that developing new leaders is high on their priority list. Yet, time after time, they are disappointed with the results of their efforts. If you want a high-performing leadership program, you must understand the following four points:

1. Businesses don’t measure results from the top down

I get it; measuring the effectiveness of leadership can be challenging. There are complex variables and starkly different opinions about the program objectives. The must state clearly and concisely what they expect to achieve from the training and program. Once the executive team has decided what they want to measure, it’s time to determine how to measure the program’s effectiveness.

I think it’s prudent to discuss why a company would start a leadership development program. The purpose of leadership is to guide change, to go someplace we have never been. Therefore, deciding what to measure and how to measure program effectiveness should align with the vision of where the company is headed.

Related: It’s Time to Evaluate Your Leadership Development Program

2. Organizations don’t measure leadership competencies

It may seem counterintuitive to not reduce program effectiveness to a number — for example, a reduction in employee turnover or the number of unplanned callouts. These are easy to measure and monitor, but they don’t directly speak to how well your leaders apply the lessons they have learned during the various leadership performance improvement activities.

A leadership development program should teach, reinforce expected behaviors and then hold leaders accountable for using the tools you provided. Would you invest capital in a piece of equipment that was never used? If you would, I have a vintage AMC Gremlin that needs a new transmission; want to buy it? No, you wouldn’t do that. You would probably buy the equipment for a specific function and capacity. You would measure the new capability on how well it meets your expectation of performance. Why invest in leadership development without measuring if you attained the desired ability?

In my article, 7 Tasks Every Leader Must Master, I outline seven core competencies that every leader must master. These tasks become core competencies that can be measured in various methods. Your imagination is the only limit to the utility of this evaluation method.

3. Businesses don’t integrate leadership development into operations

Leadership development is not a one-and-done program. Once the trainer or the consultant has left the building, then what? You can take four actions to integrate your new capability into your daily operations:

  1. Build an annual leadership plan from the ground up. Ask leaders at every level to describe the deliberate actions they will take to demonstrate their core competencies. Remember the investment in the capability? That’s the meat and potatoes.

  2. Assign new leaders a peer mentor. The role of the peer mentor is to show how we do things around here. Mentors can help familiarize new leaders with systems, team climate and cultural expectations. Not only will this help your program run smoothly, but it will also relieve the anxiety of new leaders. These relationships have the added benefit of building peer trust.

  3. Assign coaches. The role of a coach is to help all leaders work through challenges and gain situational clarity and conciseness of action. This is a confidential relationship because it is a place for leaders to deliberate and develop strategies based on desired outcomes. Coaches should not betray the vulnerability of the coachee. Coaches should keep the relationship purely objective-driven.

  4. Add accountability for leadership competencies performance. You have heard the saying “expect what you inspect.” Develop a way to periodically assess the effectiveness of your leaders in their core competencies. This doesn’t need to be a punitive consequence but should highlight areas of needed improvement or task clarity.

Related: 8 Steps to Creating an Effective Leadership Development Program

4. Businesses don’t prepare leaders for change or instill resiliency

When change hits an organization, so too does fear. Fear is a result of uncertainty. Will this change affect me and my position requirements, leadership status and pay? Does this fundamentally put me in jeopardy? The fear level is directly proportional to the level of trust the employee assigned to the organization and its leaders. At a basic level, faith comes in two forms. The first is task trust. Can this company implement the change and come out to the other end? Secondly is social trust. Will this change negatively affect my subordinates, peers and leaders’ opinion of me? With a high degree of trust comes resiliency. People who are confident that they are safe and free from harm will embrace change; they may begin to look forward to new challenges.

Related: Developing Leadership Within the Organization: A Strategic Investment

If developing new leaders is high on your priority list, understanding and avoiding the four mistakes above will put you on your way to developing a high-performing leadership program. There will undoubtedly be challenges to navigate, but these tips should give you a good start.

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