A CEO leading a massive business transformation realizes that her leaders will make or break the company’s success. She engages her CLO to build the leadership training program to support the transformation and requests, “Please promise me that this will not be another soft, squishy class. This program must further our vision and help our leaders lead in both the core business and the new business.” A marketing leader goes to a five-day external program at a prestigious university. She comes back to work and reflects that “out of the five days, I got about a day and half of great speakers, new insights and some good ideas to try out.” When you check in with her a month later, she is manically multi-tasking on her day-to day challenges and admits she hasn’t been able to apply any of her learning to what matters in her job. Elsewhere, a sales manager goes to management training and returns to tell his manager, “I learned how to read a P&L statement, but I have no clue how that knowledge alone will help my team hit our monthly numbers.”
What we’ve been observing
We have observed three core issues that have caused most leadership development initiatives to fall short, failing to deliver business results:
- Sage on stage
While there is no doubt that leadership thought leaders (Warren Bennis, Peter Drucker, Jim Collins, to name a few) have had a tremendous impact on the business world and their work has pushed leaders and companies to think differently, the industry is flooded by books, frameworks, tools and points of view. The easiest way for the gurus (or any training firm) to scale their business is by writing a book; curate the content into a classroom experience, then license the content and tools (aggregating “butts in seats”). The result? Most training firms are biased, due to their own business model, to preach, “leadership is universal.” It bolsters their profitability while forcing the leader to apply their content as appropriate.
- Content-centric vs. business centric
Howard Schultz, Founder and CEO of Starbucks, states in his book Onward, “Every organization has a memory, a history of achievements, mistakes, even unintended consequences that contribute to an ongoing dialogue—a tapestry of interpretations that infers and often directs the organization’s future.”  Leadership development programs often fail to address each company’s unique history, culture, market position, business model, strategies and culture, and they do not include your current reality and pressing challenges.
- Failure to appreciate mindset
Most companies and leaders will concede that becoming a more effective leader often requires changing behavior. A recent McKinsey Company article notes, “Identifying some of the ‘below the surface’ thoughts, feelings, assumptions, and beliefs is usually a precondition of behavior change” – a precondition that companies need to get right.  Many leadership training programs fail to address the underlying mindsets driving behavior – the deep-seated, root causes of why leaders do what they do.