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4 common roadblocks to developing leaders

Jan 19, 2023
By: Tom Cox

Even the best leadership development program does not guarantee success — to the organization or individual participants. There are four common roadblocks that often derail the outcomes: purpose, participant selection, curriculum engagement and accountability. As a result, not all programs will yield better-prepared leaders, nor will the organization have developed people prepared for leadership roles. Let’s take a look at these roadblocks.

1. Purpose

What is the outcome of the leadership development program? This is a critical question. Some organizations define the purpose as providing leadership exposure and skill development. Some organizations need existing leaders to perform more effectively. Other organizations are focused on developing a bench of leader candidates to succeed executives who leave or retire. All too often, the purpose is stated as, “We need to have some leadership training.”

Eliminate this roadblock by clearly stating the purpose: Developing hi-potential talent, preparing the next generation of leaders, building capacity in our current leaders, etc. Then, create criteria for evaluating potential program participants.

2. Participant selection

Perhaps the most important aspect of a successful leadership development program is including the right people. Unfortunately, many organizations approach selection too casually.

For example, in one program, the HR director asked department heads to select participants, but without any guidelines. The group chosen was quite mixed in terms of interest, readiness and experience. Some individuals agreed to participate because they thought it was a sign of being singled out as special. Others wanted to demonstrate that they were willing to increase their leadership responsibilities. There were a few who really didn’t know why they had been selected and viewed the opportunity as a way to avoid other work.

Eliminate this roadblock by setting criteria for those who will participate. Limit participation to those who are truly interested in pursuing new leadership responsibilities. And have an orientation that defines expectations for those selected. Encourage those unwilling or unable to participate to opt out without judgement.

3. Curricula

Many programs have entertainment baked in with dynamic speakers, exciting examples of leader success and bringing an emotional approach to learning skills. Having big-name speakers or internal executives tell stories about how they achieved success as a leader can be inspirational but it doesn’t necessarily transfer skills or help anyone improve their leadership capacity.

Other programs assume that the topics and approach are appropriate to every participant — yet individual leadership development varies with each person. Focusing on skill-building often becomes a management training experience.

There is no formula to produce effective leaders. Development should be introspective, a mix of attitudes and behaviors with a commitment to lead.

Eliminate this roadblock by working with the program facilitator to develop a curriculum that meets your purpose. Be wary of off-the-shelf programs; they may not meet your needs.

Ensure that there are elements of self-awareness (assessment and opportunities to discover individual strengths and weaknesses), self-knowledge (experiential exercises, case studies, research and other activities where an individual gets to test leadership is a safe environment) and choosing to lead (with a project where the individual learns by being accountable for a leadership initiative with success or failure).

4. Accountability

Programs end with good feelings of accomplishment. The roadblock to accountability could be a lack of change in the attitude or behavior of the leadership development participant does not change. They enjoyed the experience and can recite lessons learned, but there is little or no evidence that the person is prepared to be more effective as a leader.

Eliminate this roadblock by incorporating accountability into the leadership development program. Surveying program nominee supervisors provides a useful benchmark of leadership awareness and capability. Then, six months after the leadership development program, ask the supervisor to assess the individual again and note whether there is evidence of increased leadership capacity. When assessments are part of the leadership development program, the facilitator, organization and individual can perform at a higher level.

Make your leadership development program an important focus to identifying, reinforcing and developing leaders in your organization. Check your program to ensure you have eliminated the roadblocks. You will ensure better results.

How Wipfli can help

Become a better leader with the help of Wipfli consultants. We can help you strengthen your leadership, strategy and culture through coaching, development and recruiting. Learn more about how we help clients with people, process and strategy on our organizational performance consulting web page or check out these additional articles:

Author(s)

Tom Cox
Principal
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