10 reasons why leadership development programmes fail
The digital tsunami threatened to destroy business models and create new ones. And it did. However some leaders have side-stepped it through operating in markets that they essentially controlled or whose business models were so niche that that they were immune from macroeconomic forces.
Some leaders are presiding over businesses on life support. It is functionally dead, but is still breathing because of extreme cost management, which of course is not a sustainable solution.
All of these ‘digital dodgers’ share a common approach. They operate like old school leaders presiding over factory business models, where words like subordinate, strategy and process remain common.
In any case, the Covid-19 pandemic was less respectful of such circumstances and now all leaders are impacted by disruption, whether it be digital or biological. If you were to study many leadership development programme curricula, including MBAs, you would feel that they were catering primarily for these digital dodgers.
It would appear from a content perspective that, unlike the mobile phones of the eighties, there has been little progress in respect of their evolution.
Leadership development needs a reset. Here is where the changes need to be made:
Leadership is now ubiquitous
The few old guys in a well-appointed room making all the major decisions approach is outmoded. Today organisations need to harness the cognitive potential of everyone. Waiting for leadership approval leads to inertia, missed opportunity and provides fertile conditions for threats to mature.
Everyone in the organisation has an influencing role of some sort and thus everyone is a leader.
Innovation trumps process
Looking through the MBA syllabus of a TLA MBA School, a search for the word ‘innovation’ led to zero results.
Process is necessary, but it shouldn’t be the focus in an increasingly uncertain and volatile world. Competitive advantage is transient at best and so innovation needs to be at the core of the business model.
Such programmes tend to focus on techniques and skills. These are relatively cosmetic compared to principles such as building the company on foundations of trust or building a better planet. A skilful leader who lacks the traits of being resilient, trustworthy or solution oriented will not get far by simply being expert on financial ratios, product development and ‘go to market’ approaches.
Culture needs to be driven by principles and not rules.
Even ants can perform impressive feats collectively with some quite simple context-based principles. In fact, they don’t even need a leader.
Poor leaders tend to be cognitively overwhelmed, so they spend little time thinking and more time copying, “Our competitors have big data, let’s make sure ours is bigger”. If their development has focused on running a factory, they will see people as cogs, specifically technology placeholders, rather than humans. Humans have needs and if those needs are met, they will become self-motivating and thus their potential becomes limitless.
As the war for talent becomes more acute, and by talent I don’t mean a denatured process worker, people will choose to work for organisations that are aligned with their own values. If the sole focus of the organisation is making a few major shareholders even richer then they may struggle to acquire the best and the brightest. Publicly quoted companies will of course struggle with this. This highlights that capitalism itself needs a reset.
At the time of writing (Covid lockdown), no one knows what will be happening in two months’ time. So what sense is there in having 2030 or 2040 visions, other than to redirect people’s minds away from the failed 2020 vision implementation.
The world is in flux and it is going to get fluxier.
Situational awareness trumps strategy, as does execution.
Reflection is overrated
Often leaders spend considerable time on development programmes reflecting on their leadership style, career trajectory or the organisational strategic direction. Short-fuse action learning would be a better approach. Let the rapid solving of a real organisational issue be the motivation for learning. As the tsunami approaches, contemplation is not the best use of your time when standing on the beach.
Customers are quite important
They are not as important as your people. Acquiring and retaining the best people is job number one. This is the way to best serve the customer. Perhaps more importantly, as a leader your time needs to be spent with customers. Being a leader has not earned you the right to live in a well-appointed penthouse office hermetically sealed from grubby reality.
We need new KPIs
Profits need to be deemphasised. Asset growth is needed to build a buffer against an unknowable future. KPIs that encourage risk taking / experimentation are also required. It would be wise to measure failure velocity to ensure it doesn’t get dangerously low.
We don’t know what the future holds, so we need diversity of perspectives and experience. This means inclusion, rather than simply compliance.
Looking for predictable behaviour makes sense when you are running a factory and you have a better understanding of how to operate a particular type of cog.
But in this post-industrial, Covid riddled era, unpredictable is exactly what is required. If your leadership programme encourages blind followership, it would be better suited to a management school for lemmings.
This is not just an issue for the business schools. Learning and development providers need to create programmes that reflect the new realities. Similarly, the L&D functions of both public and private sector organisations must take this onboard.
Adding a few modules on 3D printing or IoT might well sex up the current curriculum. But that is like adding leather bucket seats to a horse and cart. Simply swapping your GE and Dell case studies with ones related to Uber and AirBnB won’t cut it either. Case studies mean little in a highly volatile and uncertain world.
Leadership development needs a reset.