$14 billion is a high price to pay when there’s very little to show for it in return, but that’s exactly what’s happening with many organizations’ leadership development programs, according to a new McKinsey article.
How can it be that so many companies are claiming leadership development is their number one concern and priority—and they’re investing literally billions of dollars a year into improving the capabilities of their leaders—yet a large majority of these programs are ultimately failing?
The article discusses the common mistakes that are sabotaging leadership development efforts—and many tie directly to what we know about the brain.
1. These initiatives often “rest on the assumption that one size fits all and that the same group of skills or style of leadership is appropriate regardless of strategy, organizational culture, or CEO mandate.” In other words, they overlook context, and for the brain, context is everything.
Not only do different people have different learning and thinking preferences and therefore, different motivations, perceptions and approaches to work, different objectives and business requirements depend on different kinds of thinking. There has to be alignment at every level to connect people, strategy and development.
As we’ll be discussing in upcoming white papers, a foundation in thinking gives the brain the context it needs, and it also provides us with a common framework to build alignment.
2. The article also notes that combining the opportunity for personal reflection and growth with real work experience can aid in training transfer. The challenge, though, when integrating leadership development into real-life, on-the-job projects is making sure leaders are mentally prepared for the stretch. Their thinking preferences, their stage within the leadership pipeline, and the requirements of the project itself all play a part. It’s up to those designing the initiative to recognize this and ensure the experience is energizing and confidence building rather than draining and confidence destroying. This may require additional tools and resources to help the leader grow outside his or her thinking comfort zones.
3. “Underestimating mindsets” is a mistake we see all too often. Most training focuses primarily on behavior change, but mindsets get in the way of change and unless addressed correctly, will stop any change from ever taking place. Put simply, you can’t change behavior for long-term results without first understanding how people think and how to overcome the brain’s resistance to change.
4. Finally, the article mentions several good ideas for overcoming the mistake of failing to measuring results. We would add that Return on Intelligence, which encompasses Return on Investment, Return on Initiative, Return on Interaction and Return on Innovation, is the ultimate ROI.
Because $14 billion is a big number, but it’s only part of the equation. In today’s world, we’re competing on knowledge, speed, execution, the ability to collaborate and generate new ideas… that’s what we need from our new and emerging leaders, and it all starts with their thinking.