As a trainer and a consultant, I travel all over the country facilitating leadership development programs. One of the first questions I ask in my programs is, “How many people have reported to a bad manager in their career?” Unfortunately (and I would even argue predictably) usually about 90% of the people in the room raise their hand. Why is that? Because I believe that most companies make massive mistakes when it comes to how they handle leadership development in their organizations. People want to do well, but we are not helping them succeed. I see it at every size company, in the world of nonprofit and in government agencies. Here are the biggest mistakes I see companies make and how to solve them.
Mistake #1: We promote people who have technical competency, and they assume they have leadership skills. I see so many organizations who promote a person because they were good at their job. They were good at IT, so companies assume that they will also make a good IT manager. Why do we do that? It is such a crazy assumption because the skills required to do the job are nowhere near the same skills required to lead and manage people. Of course, the person who got promoted will not admit that they don’t know I, they will just do the best they can, and they will either sink or swim. Unfortunately, far too often they sink. Solution: Don’t assume people know how to lead and manage. Provide training and development for all new managers to teach them how to lead effectively.
Mistake #2: We let senior leaders get away with not committing to their own development. When I conduct leadership programs, the people running the programs almost always tell me that the Vice Presidents in the company will not be attending the programs. When I asked why, they tell me in a very frustrated tone that the senior leaders don’t believe that they need additional leadership development, and they are just too busy. I have found that some people in senior leadership roles can develop massive egos and don’t believe they need to improve or grow. Wrong! This is also an example of terrible leadership and poor role modeling. Senior leaders insist that their managers go to leadership training, but they don’t go themselves. In one program that I conducted, a very savvy CEO took the training as a student to demonstrate how important it was to commit to leadership development. Solution: The CEO of the company should require that every person in a leadership or management role should commit to leadership development every year. It should be a requirement, not an option.
Mistake #3: There is no assessment or testing of leadership skills and abilities. Many times, when I talk to clients who want to do leadership development, they have already selected a list of topics that they want to cover. When I ask how these topics were selected, they say they got together with the group and decided what it was that people needed. My question to that is always “how do you know?” In my opinion you can’t do effective leadership development unless you assess where people are in their skill sets. How do you know what they need unless you test their knowledge skills and abilities? Solution: Put into place effective, data-driven leadership assessments, so the training can be tailored to exactly what it is that people need, not what we think they need.
Mistake #4: Not willing to commit the time for leadership development. Many times in organizations, people tell me that they would like to attend my leadership development programs, but they can’t. When I ask why, they tell me that they are too busy, and their manager will not let them attend the program because there’s too much work to be done. This is a very shortsighted strategy, and it is also a vicious cycle. The person in a leadership role is working very hard and because they’re working very hard, they’re not able to go to the leadership development program. Because they’re not getting leadership development, they’re not getting better at what they do and having a hard time increasing their productivity or effectiveness as a leader. Solution: If we want people to be effective leaders, no matter how busy they are, we must invest time for their leadership development.
Mistake #5: Thinking that leadership development is an event and not a process. I often find it amusing when companies send their leaders to one day leadership development training programs. The company is hoping that that leader will learn and apply new skills from the program. But the reality is learning should not be an event, it should be a process and often that is where the training fails, because there is no process. Solution: When conducting leadership development programs there needs to be pre-assignments, the class itself, and then comprehensive follow-up processes to make sure that they apply what they learned.
Mistake #6: The managers are not committed to their direct reports’ development. I often hear a sad story from someone in my leadership program, who went back the next day to work, and had their manager completely ignore the fact that they attended class. They don’t ask how class went, they don’t ask what they learned, they don’t do any follow-up whatsoever because they are so busy doing the work. When people that are in the leadership program try to apply their action plans that they developed, the manager tells them that they don’t have the time and they need to get back to work. It is impossible for a leader to develop effectively if they don’t get support from the person that they report to and worse get resistance from the person that they report to. This sends a terrible message to the person in the program because it tells them that is not important. Solution: Make sure that when your company does leadership development, it involves not only the people who are in the class, but the people who they report to because they are an integral part of the entire process.
Take a hard look at your organization and ask yourself if you are committing any of these mistakes in developing your leaders. Some simple course corrections can make the difference between highly effective leaders who lead effectively and motivate their employees, and those who don’t. The choice is yours.