Did you know that companies large and small are spending, in total, billions of dollars each year on leadership development? The range is estimated to be from 40 billion in the US to 350 billion worldwide. That sounds high but not when you consider the popularity of leadership today. I’ve written earlier (The Sentinel, 9/12/2015) that we don’t understand leadership as well as we should. Yet the programs on leadership persist.

These programs are either developed within each company or bought from an outside vendor. Leadership is a hot topic. Most CEOs would like to assure a continuous supply of future leaders for their companies. Yet according to McKinsey and Company data, large businesses, in particular, don’t have enough leaders for their international markets and the frequent volatility they experience. With all this money and demand for leadership development, why do so many programs fail to deliver the desired result? Such concerns were featured in articles in Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and Sloan Management Review.

One of the first contributing factors of why leadership programs fail is the focus on leader qualities that have been around for a long time even though new insights are developed and the larger culture changes. For example we’ve gone from qualities based on command and control to those qualities based on both the latest fads and research on team building. Today the list is long and so inclusive as to be nearly meaningless for training.

Since the 1950s leader qualities have gone from “follow me” and “do as I say” to more team based qualities that encourage greater participation by each team member, and greater communication and collaboration by the leader. With the ascendance of women in leadership positions the predominantly male leader qualities are slowly changing.

This is an important point — you’ll see many changes in the coming years. Even so women who take leadership courses are frequently treated to a focus on male leadership qualities. However, this too is changing and will continue to change. One issue they do not yet address sufficiently is the differences between male and female leadership styles. Women are more collaborative, make no excuse when they don’t know everything and they use it as an opportunity for the team to grow.

One factor that contributes greatly to the failure is the potential leaders mainly hear of these leader qualities in the classroom, take a test, and then go back into the workforce. There isn’t enough emphasis on development through practice, evaluation/assessment, feedback, and coaching.

Other factors contribute to the failure of leadership development programs. Companies don’t distinguish between leadership and development. They’ve become synonymous. Many do not make a distinction between the qualities of a leader and the process of leadership. In the latter, the participation of all the “followers” is introduced as important.

Other factors include:

1. The rush to find leaders but not giving enough time for development

2. Not enough assessment of emotional awareness of self and others

3. Incomplete competency identification and definition for company success

4. Not engaging potential leaders in situations and projects meaningful to each company

5. Better alignment with strategic goals

6. Not creating opportunities to learn leadership on the job

7. An inability to define success and measure its results

The obvious answer to providing leaders for the future is that there needs to be a better focus on development and not just a focus on leader qualities in classroom instruction. Consider leadership development as a process and a commitment in time that includes assessment for readiness, education for the basics, feedback on performance, coaching for application and integration, evaluations for understanding, and refresher education/development when needed. This is the leadership development process.

The importance of having a cadre of leaders ready to step into changing situations, and of having enough bench strength, speaks to a company that will have a long history of growing leaders willing to change direction, reduce risk, add value, and continue to provide profits for all stakeholders. It will be a company of both women and men leaders working together for a common goal.

Bob Vecchiotti is a business advisor and executive coach in Peterborough. His website is www.leadershipexpert.com