“Why doesn’t leadership development work?” reads the starting comments of many HR forums I’ve seen lately. Well, let’s think about the content and measure of many leadership development programs.
Managers are often sent to a course where they ‘learn’ how to ‘deal’ with their reports. They learn how to give feedback and conduct annual reviews. Then they’re ‘graded’ on how well they do this in practice (if they’re graded at all).
That’s great for managers. It’s easy to follow those instructions and follow them under supervision and even without supervision.
And, it gives them some control.
The Veil of Control
No matter how people get into management, they are given new responsibility, which may or may not come with some authority to make decisions.
I know someone who was hired as the VP of Operations, but he wasn’t allowed to make final decisions about who he wanted to fill open positions for his team! And not only did he not really have any say in how he would improve operations, but he was kept out of the loop for decisions that directly impacted operations over which he was supposed to have oversight. Despite his strength as a respected leader, the executive leadership was too dysfunctional for him to make a difference, so he left.
But this lack of control is common among managers. Instead of leaving like my friend did, they will often cling on to any control offered, like successfully getting green marks on their management competency score card.
Why Leadership Training Doesn’t (Usually) Work
The trouble with many of these leadership development programs is that the focus is all around building general communication skills, which is definitely important but not key.
For true leadership development that is going to move the bar on the bottom line, you have teach managers to give up control. And that is where your biggest barrier lies. Managers don’t want to give up control, especially when they don’t really have any in the first place.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of one of those meticulously structured feedback sessions? If not, take a rope with a noose tied onto one end because you’ll want to use it before the session is over. Ugh!
That is no way to lead your team.
On the other hand, have you ever been tapped on the shoulder to lead a project or given the responsibility of finding a creative solution for a problem? If you messed up, were you congratulated on how well you were doing and given a pep talk for the best way to proceed?
This is what leadership looks like: respect, encouragement, and teamwork.
What Working Leadership Development Programs Look Like
A good leadership program focuses on coaching managers to give up control. They need to trust their reports to do the work that the new manager once did. More importantly, they need to coach their reports on how to do the work better than they ever did. They need to give their reports the credit for doing that awesome work, and they need to encourage their reports to move on, grow and become a better leader than themselves.
Leaders should be measured on how well their team works together, not on how well they score on a competency card. They should be measured on how many creative solutions their team has implemented and on how much they allow their reports to take full responsibility for the work they’re assigned, or on how much work their team is allowed to assume for themselves. They should also be measured on the success of their reports in promoted positions.
Leaders should be measured on how well their team improves, not on their own improvement. The only way for the team to improve is for managers to give up some control and let their team do what they were hired to do.
Love Your Reports
When employees are treated with respect, trusted to handle work and coached through tough spots, everyone grows. When everyone grows, the company grows. Managers need enough control to give their team some control. Trust them to do what they were hired to do (or promoted to do).