Hopeless returns on investment from leadership development 5


I’ve long said that “training” events where big names and gurus talk to 200 leaders at a time about leadership are a waste of time and money.  I put training in quotes, because these are really presentations, not training, and while there may be a call to action at the end of them, they generally don’t create much transfer of learning back to the workplace.  There’s a lot of excitement, and intention to do things differently maybe, but research by Olivero and Bane shows that even good training leads to just a 20% change in behavior on-the-job.  That’s a hopeless return on investment.

We (the world) spend so much money on developing leaders, and yet what do we get to show for it?  Time and time again, in public service, we see that the leadership is lacking, as reported in public inquiries.

So what are we doing wrong?  I was thrilled to be on a course with Peter Hawkins a couple of weeks back, where he outlined how leadership development needs to move into the modern age.  I couldn’t agree more with his recommendations. Here’s the gist of what he said

Leadership Development needs to move From: To:
Case studies Real-time challenges
Intellectual, cerebral learning: new insights and good intentions Behavioural transformation: new actions in the workplace
Individual, leader development Relational, leadership development
Competency based – for success in the past Involves real stakeholder perspectives – for success in the future
No attention paid to dropping old habits that are no longer relevant Includes unlearning,  addressing of limiting assumptions, mind-sets, habitual patterns

Adapted from: Leadership Team Coaching: Developing Collective Transformational Leaders by Peter Hawkins

To achieve all of these things, the leadership development of tomorrow needs to focus on systemic executive coaching, systemic team coaching, action learning, learning on-the-job with feedback.  These kinds of learning lead to an 80% change in behavior (Olivero and Bane).  That’s such a huge leap in return on investment – why would we not want that?

It’s not about the classroom anymore…it’s about real-time learning, tackling the problems that our future world and stakeholders needs from us as leaders. 

The expectations of delivering quickly, with higher quality, and lower costs, are only going to get stronger; and the working world is only going to get more and more complex.  So what worked today will not work for tomorrow. 

It’s time we stopped wasting our money on competency development for yesterday’s world; and started focusing our scarce time and money on coaching individuals in their context, coaching teams to live up to their collective endeavours, and challenging people to tackle the real issues and learn from that. 

My thanks to Peter Hawkins for his inspiration.


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