Leadership & Team Development Training is Generally Substandard
Most of leadership development programs are poor and really don’t make a sustainable difference. The main reason for this claim is that these programs teach people various techniques and offer leaders tools, without covering the beliefs leaders have about leadership. The programs I mention here can range from university MBA programs right through to one-day in-house workshops.
What these programs fail to do is to contextualise leadership for the current realities. They still very much assume that we are working in the relatively stable, static environment of the 20th century, where the leaders’ role was pretty much governed by their position or title. The rhetoric has changes, but the course content is the same.
What leaders think about their role as a leader is not always discussed. It is assumed they are equipped with the necessary mindset to leader in the 21st century. For instance, if a manager believes in being decisive, strong, directional, and purposeful, this will impact on the way they lead, regardless of the tools and techniques they learn.
Leadership development is more about the development of outdated skills-set and less about the developing the right thinking to lead in a changing world. Leadership thinking is at least as important as leadership development.
Leadership Development - Procedural Learning
Leadership development can no longer be taught as a set of strategies, techniques, and tools, like teaching someone to be an accountant, engineers or bricklayer. The eight steps to delegation or the three steps to change or the keys to creating an empowered environment are typical topics of what I’m referring to as outdated.
This procedural information undoubtedly has some benefit. Leadership and team development programs that teach this procedural knowledge is still in high demand. It has become an industry. But the problem is, it assumes that the context or environment in which leaders operate is the same as it always has been.
Using procedural learning in the wrong situation will render these techniques useless. The working environment for most of the 200-years since the industrial revolution has been stable, predictable, and hierarchical. In the second decade of the new millennium, the conditions are the almost opposite. The world of work is unstable, unpredictable, and highly flexible. This requires a new brand of leadership thinking and associated approaches. No longer is it about mastering some techniques, like building a house or framing a budget.
Leaders now need to be reflective learners and self-leadership is key. Reflective learning is about creating a space in our busy schedule to consider leadership practise. I like the questions:
- What went well?
- What didn’t go well?
- What have I learned and applied for the future?
Learning to ask these questions after a project or meeting, or situation is good practise. It puts the leader into a continuous learning cycle. This is the essence of leadership development.
When was the last time you were taught to reflect on these practices? Yet, this is the kind of leadership development that is fundamentally important.
Self-leadership is about working hard on one’s self more than working on changing the people the leader leads. This requires introspection; considering one’s strengths and opportunities for growth as a manager. In short, it means understanding one’s self. Adopting this approach means that a leader is constantly in a state of learning and that the learning never ends.
Leadership Team Development
I also find that leadership team development is an area that needs to be approached differently. Often managers go away for corporate retreats for what are cynically referred to as ‘love ins’. These programs cover several activities to build teamwork. They are generally enjoyable and sometimes useful.
But again, they miss the mark. Managers are rewarded for performing as individuals. Given a choice between meeting individual targets and KPI and working harmoniously with colleagues, the former generally wins out. And leaders are put in these situations daily in the work they do. Teamwork is tough at the leadership level. These barriers need removing.
Teamwork at the leadership level means that that incentives and rewards must be geared towards working collaborative nd cross-functionally. This problem is amplified because to get to a senior leadership position, a person must exhibit superior individual behaviours over teamwork. Being a team player is not necessary what people are judged and promoted on.
Leadership and team development needs a rethink. And those training organisations who are bold enough to do this will succeed. But unfortunately, they are in short supply worldwide.