The 3 Things Missing From Your Leadership Development Program.
Posted on August 12th, 2013

by Randy Sabourin

We have all witnessed, or experienced, Leadership Development Programs at organizations that miss the mark. Although designed using valid processes- evaluate what we have today and train the gaps to create the Leaders of tomorrow- somehow the return on investment is not enough.


Young executives who have become good leaders early in their career have an intuitive sense about how to lead. Although pragmatic about learning, they often reject a content based ‘do it this way’ approach to leadership development. They feel they are unique and haven’t gotten this far by doing everything the same way everyone else has. There is also the brash young ‘know it all’ executive leader: full of hubris, too high on control and unwilling to consider other’s input. Their reaction to classroom training is much same, perhaps with the exception of the pragmatic approach to new learning.

Leadership Development programs fail for what they don’t give new leaders, not from a lack of the right content. Increasing business acumen (reading balance sheet, cash flow, budgets, etc.) or learning a companywide system coaching process is great content to learn, however, understanding these things will not produce a leader. There are three things that can create great leaders.

First: Know Thyself.

The best leaders understand their strengths, and more importantly, their weaknesses. A good behavioral psychometric evaluation can give the indications about where to begin. A leadership development program must increase self-awareness to be successful. There are two factors to self-awareness: knowing and believing. Reading the results from a psychometric inventory is one thing; believing the results and having strategies and tactics to adapt behavior generally requires outside help.When using psychometric inventories, make sure they focus on behavior, on performance under pressure and have very high test-retest validity. Figuring out favorite colors and which animal you most relate to are not statistically or psychologically valid, and won’t help you be a better leader. 54% of Managers use only one style when providing direction and support for their people, according to Ann Phillips, a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. Leaders who are unable to adapt their style either are unaware of their blind spots or are unwilling to adapt. Either is a roadblock to becoming a successful leader.

Second:Practice, Practice, Practice.

The reason newly learned content from workshops or e-learning rarely finds its way into day to day usage is the fear of trying something new under pressure. New Leaders face a multitude of important new situations that they only get one chance to be successful at. The first time coaching what was previously a co-worker, for example, is not the place to try something new. Imagine a professional tennis player trying a new serving technique for the first time during the finals at Wimbledon. Think of practice the same way a professional athlete or musician does- dedicate time and resources to working on developing new skills in a safe environment. Consider the 10,000 hour theory in context to being a leader; there are lots of mistakes to be made in the learning process, better they happen in a safe practice environment.  Practice is not answering questions in e-learning or role-playing with another participant in a coaching workshop.  Applying new skills in the workplace becomes a natural progression after dedicated practice.

Third, Seek Assistance

Finding or creating a coaching organization that can help navigate behavioral assessments and incorporate safe practice into a Leadership Program is critical. The investment is small considering the potential return. A coaching team can help focus practice on the challenges of each individual, as with other professionals there can be coaches for various tasks. You can engage in targeted safe practice on coaching, or presentation skills, or even Business Improvisation if required. The coaching team is designed to work on converting knowledge from various learning content into usable skills.

New Leaders are generally eager to learn; they’ve read the popular business books, watched TED talks and listened to podcasts. The content developed by Corporate Learning & Development for Leadership Development is usually sound; more content is not the answer. The missing ingredient is a service that transfers knowledge into a usable skill.

The barrier to not approaching Leadership Development one leader at a time is cost. Assessing a new Leader with a valid behavioral psychometric inventory and one-on-one strategic debrief can range from $500 to $1500. Targeted one-on-one telephone based practice focused on coaching and critical conversations can range from $500 to $1000 per participant. If the result of these costs is an effective, sustainable, respected leader, the expense seems insignificant.The choice is even easier when considering the alternatives; redesign an already valid Leadership Development program, add the costs of delivering the workshop, time away from the office, travel, etc. Or, do nothing and hope that the new Leader has the will and ambition to figure it out. 

3 responses to “The 3 Things Missing From Your Leadership Development Program.”

  1. Randy Sabourin says:

    Thanks for the comment Ricardo. There’s no doubt that influencing the ‘lizard’s brain’ can be difficult and at very least frustrating. I like your approach of change from the inside because it’s much more likely to succeed than change from the outside, a paid outside where the additional issue of ‘why are we paying this guy stir stuff up’ comes into the equation. The light at the end of tunnel; one day someone will notice the change and although you didn’t observe it because it was small increments, the organization will be on the right course and you can be proud.

    Keep pushing.

  2. Ricardo A. Gonzalez says:

    I hardly take the time to see what’s going on here, let alone comment. However, your post was pretty much right at the top. Your intro resonated more with me than anything else. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t disagree with your three points. Good stuff. But your into about corporate programs…ugh. Too close to home. I spent YEARS raging against the corporate machine, fighting archaic systems born of a different time and place. I tried to influence my peers in leadership and met with some success. I gained a little momentum. More senior leaders started listening. I got executive sponsorship. I felt some momentum building. Things were looking up.

    Then the corporate Lizard Brain tore down what I’d work so hard yet so delicately to build. Guess what happened? My executive sponsor moved on, and the “leaders” that filled the void were happy to set the collective clock back 100 years. Well, that’s a bit melodramatic, but that’s what it felt like. So, I bailed. I left the org for the only place that made any sense to me. I went to HR. I didn’t rat on anyone. No, when I say I went to HR, I mean I left my IT career behind to change e system from the inside. Didn’t sound as stupid at the time.

    ANYWAY, large corporations are hard to change, and it all comes down to leadership and that elusive executive sponsorship. Sure, the CEO wants “culture change”! These days, what CEO doesn’t? It’s a common edict, I hear. The problem is and, in my estimation, remains that middle, quasi-executive level. The ones who aspire to the C-suite. The motivation to change, to inspire change, to demand change in their parts of the organization has to be strong, true. If it isn’t, there isn’t a program in the world that’ll effect the kind of change many well-intentioned HR Leadership Dev folks think they can inspire.

    It’s maddening, really.

    this comment from Triibes

  3. ovan poucke says:

    There are some intriguing points in time in this write-up. Superb article , thanks and we want alot more! ovanpoucke.

Leave a Reply

To learn more about us and how we can help your employees become more effective communicators through deliberate, experiential practice, please contact us.
Twitter Facebook
Toronto 416-366-6296
Greensboro 336-663-0637
Toll-Free 1-866-945-0648

550 Queen Street East, Suite 300
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M5A 1V2