How to stop wasting money on leadership development

Businesses invest an incredible amount of time and money in their leaders, and rightly so. But unless they invest in the right way, they are wasting precious resources, and crucially, their leaders remain undeveloped.

Hundreds of millions of pounds are spent on leadership development annually, averaging £1400 per manager in the private sector according to a survey conducted by CMI and Penna. So turning that into a measurable pay-off should surely be a priority, right? Here are five ways we have found produce results:

1)   Address identity rather than behaviour

If a leader believes, deep-down, that they need to appear invulnerable, all-knowing and dominant to succeed, their behaviour will follow suit. Too much leadership training focuses on teaching general princi​​ples rather than coaching leaders through the kind of honest self-reflection that leads to results.

‘Managers tend to be too risk averse: they focus on the costs of investing in bad ideas rather than the benefits of piloting good ones.’ – Adam Grant, organisational psychologist, Originals

Without addressing the psychological causes of such behaviour, a training session full of general principles will bounce off your leaders. Connection to a communal sense of purpose will remain trapped beneath next week’s deadline. For lasting change to take place, unhelpful thoughts and feelings need to be addressed. And this can only be achieved when leaders are empowered to understand their own mindset and are given the tools to upgrade it.

2)   Get comfortable with the uncomfortable

What is the level of uncomfortable honesty within your leadership team? We all tend to hold things back in conversation, especially with our superiors. The underlying assumption is that it is better to say ‘All is well’ instead of ‘I’ve recognised a problem’.

If the predominant conversation in your business is ‘All is well’ then it is likely that people are holding back from saying what is really bothering them. The same attitude will carry over into leadership training sessions. If we are afraid to look at the uncomfortable questions it will be impossible to find impactful ways to move forward together.

‘Lack of candour, if left unchecked, ultimately leads to dysfunctional environments.’ –  Ed Catmull, President of Disney and Pixar Animation, Creativity Inc.

3)   Recognise and reward

What is motivating your leaders to change? If the focus of your leadership training is innovation but you verbally and structurally reward those who never seem to fail, there is a disconnect. If managers are encouraged to give feedback to their superiors but are rewarded with a better working-relationship when they agree with their boss, it will be difficult for change to happen.

To ensure your training has the effect that was intended, create space for the training to be put into practice. Then continue to recognise the changes they make and reward them accordingly.

4)   Remove the fear-factor from failure

Is there freedom to get it wrong? To explore new ideas and make mistakes? If not, learning will never truly happen. At least not the kind you intend. Your leaders can learn one theory in a training session but then daily learn a very different lesson from the expectations placed on them. (‘I can’t be seen to fail,’ ‘It’s better to play it safe than try something new,’ or ‘I need to micro-manage so they know I’ve got things under control.’)

No leader wants to try something new if it might have personal consequences. And it’s impossible for a leader to develop unless they have permission to make mistakes along the way.

As Dean Kamen, the infamous inventor of the Segway said, ‘You’ve gotta kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince.’

5)   Address the context

Sometimes leadership training can feel disconnected from day-to-day work. But if you are shifting the way you do things at a structural level, your training can be a way to invite your leaders to be a part of that change.

If your leaders feel connected to the larger changes your business is making they will be inspired to adjust their own mindsets. Incremental changes on a personal level feel much more meaningful when the whole company is trying to break into something new.

Want more insight on how to move forward? Get in touch with us, and find out how we can help.

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