Why Most Leadership Development Programs Don’t Work

Why most leadership development programs don't work – Learn2

Leadership development is about building team members’ capacity to contribute their individual gifts and collaborative abilities towards organizational success. Formalized leadership development can benefit an organization in countless ways: it enhances effectiveness and efficiency; propels teams through times of transition and turmoil; and breeds innovation and the inclusion of underrepresented voices. Many professional development courses, however, focus on the benefits rather than the process, which is why most leadership development programs don’t work.

The Top Reasons Leadership Development Programs Fail

While leadership development can be an extremely rewarding investment – both financially and qualitatively – to pay these multifold dividends, it needs to be properly implemented and nurtured. Let’s look at the top reasons why leadership development programs fail and how to set yours apart.

Balancing Real-World Benefit With Professional Development 

Oftentimes, leadership development programs are delivered in classroom-like settings where theoretical best practices are shared over screens or discussed within ideological frameworks. This well-intentioned approach to leadership development, unfortunately, leaves a lot to be desired as adults only take away about 10% of learning within theoretical contexts. 

A more effective way to teach team members about leadership and to actually build upon their knowledge and skills is to provide the means to apply their learning. This can look like integrating leadership coaching into ongoing projects and marking out KPIs that reflect innovation and teamwork while fostering an environment for improved communication. That way, your teams can keep their projects moving forward while developing fundamental transferrable skills that enhance their overall approaches to leadership. 

Forgetting Context is Key in Leadership Development

When hoping to implement an effective leadership training program, it’s important to keep in mind that what works for one group or industry may not work for another. Understanding what types of leaders and leader qualities your organization needs will be important when developing your programming. For example, if you are seeking to boost innovation and create a culture where risk is rewarded, your leadership development will look much different from an organization that is trying to navigate financial hardship with resource-effectiveness and risk management as its priorities.

When your professional development approaches do not honor your unique corporate ecosystem and the strengths of those who champion it, you run the risk of prioritizing values and activities that may be counterintuitive to your goals. This, in turn, will create work and diminish the returns of your professional development investment.

Not Addressing the Root Causes of Beliefs & Behaviors

Hoping to change your organization for the better is a noble aim. Real systemic change requires knowledge of the underpinning values and beliefs that support or prevent particular leadership qualities/approaches from taking hold. If you want to foster transformational change, it will be important to understand what drives your leaders and how you can support their growth from the inside out. Otherwise, changes will not be sustainable because those key internal motivators will eventually bubble to the surface.

To ensure you are getting to the heart of change, consider incorporating unconscious bias training, safe spaces for equity and inclusion conversations and qualitative interviews with stakeholders at every level of your organization. Find out if there is cohesion or a disconnect between your leadership teams and their team members, and drive home the importance of authentic collaboration, shared understanding and respect during your leadership programming.

Lack of Program Measurement

How can you tell if something succeeded or failed if you do not put any measurement into place? Participant surveys are not the be-all, end-all when it comes to establishing how effective leadership development programming has been. This is because truly effective programming should challenge, not just appease, participants. To understand how well you were able to deliver on leadership programming, it’s important to establish a valuable set of KPIs at the outset. This may include looking at the extent of behavioral change, the quality of decision-making and measurable increases in diversity of representation at leadership levels.

By setting high standards with your employees and clearly articulating successes and challenges, you will know what else you still need to strive towards. Additionally, you can report back to participants and key stakeholders to encourage further investment in leadership development.

Build & Implement Effective Leadership Development Programming

At Learn2, we have dedicated teams and resources to help establish best practices for leadership development training. We have worked with teams across every industry and have seen, time and time again, the positive results that come from thoughtfully prepared and passionately delivered leadership development training.

If you are excited about the opportunity to create real change within your organization, reach out to our Learn2 professional development specialists. We can find the best ways to foster effective leadership, so you can avoid the common missteps that compromise the ROIs of leadership development.

About Author

Doug Bolger is the world’s foremost instructional designer for participant-driven designs. He is changing how the world works, by changing how the world learns.


An Immersive Leadership Experience

Traditional training falls short. Save the Titanic™ immerses your team on the bridge of the Titanic, rekindling their passion for learning and teamwork. Backed by $750 billion in economic impact, we guarantee 4X ROI.