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Executive Corner – Leadership Development is Broken: 10 Tips to Fix It

Michael Clegg | 02/16/2023

The average leader gets their first role at the age of 30 BUT receives their first leadership training at the age of 42. How can we expect our leaders to thrive without development? 

The world is exponentially changing every day. Today is the slowest day for technological advances. Each day, there’s new growth and innovation. When we think about the computing power of the first space travel over 50 years ago could be run on an iPhone today, it provides us with perspective. TIME is a leader’s currency. The cost for great culture is TIME. The price for high engagement of your employees is TIME. The world is changing rapidly, yet I’m telling you to GIVE more of your TIME. Yep. That’s exactly right. 

We should all be concerned with technological advancement because the world of work is evolving. In some companies, evolution feels like a revolution. Automation will replace the most task-focused roles. Jack Welch said, “when the world outside is changing faster than the world inside, the end is near.” Recent data I reviewed showed that 25% of today’s jobs would be replaced with automation within the next two years. Additionally, mid-sized companies can save up to $4M by reducing labor costs by automating roles. That’s a far cry from 100 years ago when manual labor jobs outpaced automated ones 2:1. The knowledge economy is here to stay.

The bottom line is that leaders’ roles are becoming more complex than ever. We can no longer think about solving new issues with old solutions. We must adapt to the world. One of the most impactful books I read in the past decade was written in 2022, “Trust and Inspire,” by Stephen M. R. Covey. The world of work is trending towards a preference for the “Trust and Inspire” leadership style. This book speaks to many positive changes that need to occur in the leadership world. Leaders need to humanize their approach. Covey spends much time explaining why traditional Command-and-Control leadership doesn’t work.

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Connection is the bridge to Trust

He also points out a study from LRN, a consulting firm that studied over 16,000 employees, and that 93% of companies were still led by Command and Control leadership. In this report, LRN calls Command-and-Control “Blind Obedience,” also known as a power-based, task-driven organization that operates through command principles and guidelines that place little priority on building lasting relationships. If you don’t build relationships, you WON’T build Trust. A leader must work on building connections with their employees. Connection is THE bridge to trust. If we aren’t training our leaders to build Trust, how will we help them develop this skill set when most of us were brought up in a Command-and-Control environment? Here is a webinar you can view with Covey discussing some of his book’s Trust and Inspire principles. 

There is overwhelming data regarding engagement studies at work. Gallup says that 1/3 of employees are actively disengaged. This isn’t new data. This is what the world now calls “Quiet Quitting.” Employees that show up to work but get very little accomplished. When employees are engaged, then Trust is. When they trust, they have high psychological safety. Employees with high psychological safety are not afraid to speak up or worry about asking questions and looking stupid. It has been proven that employees that lack fear are more productive, innovative, and participate in problem-solving exercises, versus the “Quiet Quitting” employee that sits at their desk apathetically. It’s another reason that I have written the article “Measure Outcomes NOT Tasks.” Often when we lack a focus on outcomes, we default to the path of least resistance and choose comfort.  When we are task-focused instead of outcomes-focused, we confuse being busy with being productive. Outcomes-focused people use tasks to get the desired result. Task-focused people are highly reactive to the whims of the day and often default to comfort. When I plan my next day, the night before, I spring out of bed in the morning with a plan. If I don’t, I have been known to hit the snooze button once or twice. I call that the “first choice.” The reason for that name is that it is our first choice of the day. We choose between “effort” (kick the sheets and get out of bed) or “comfort” (hit the snooze a couple of times), especially since the average American takes 24 minutes to get out of bed each day.

Organizations can do a few things to start reshaping their development programs:

1.     Start a leadership development training program

2.     Connect the company vision and goals to that development program

3.     Connect the learning methods with the leader’s preferences

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*Development Dimensions International, 2021

4.     Leadership development must be a critical strategic initiative from Senior Leadership

5.     Integrate leader training into everyday work environments

6.     Dive deep within a few competencies rather than trying to boil the ocean

7.     Focus the program on critical outcomes

8.     The program should be more than classroom training and require follow-up for consistency

9.     Don’t let the old ways of doing things inhibit the new ways taught in the program

10.  Correct the talent programs and make sure the process is set up to identify the right talent pool

Harvard Business Review article titled “Why leadership training fails and what to do about it” discusses six basic steps to approach talent development. Many relate to my ten tips for reshaping or beginning your development program. Every program must have buy-in from the executive team, or the program will die on arrival due to a lack of stakeholder support. The environment surrounding the trainee must be fertile soil for change. Avoid employees going through a development program and reentering their atmosphere only to find too many barriers to change. Coaching should not stop in the classroom. There should be a practical application to the program that works in the trainee’s environment. That could mean observing 1x1s or spending time in team meetings with the trainee. This should go without saying, ensure the framework for selecting the right leader is in place.

In 2005, Netflix founder Reed Hastings told Inc, “DVDs will continue to generate big profits in the near future. Netflix has at least another decade of dominance ahead of it. But movies over the Internet are coming, and at some point, it will become big business. We started investing 1% to 2% of revenue every year in downloading…. We want to be ready when video-on-demand happens. That’s why the company is called Netflix, not DVD-by-Mail.” 

Organizations need to put plans in place to provide ongoing leadership development AND create that development in real-time, not only in a classroom setting. 

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