top of page

Why Leadership Development Programs Don't Work (And What Does) Leadership development should be

Companies in the United States spend more than $14 billion each year on leadership development. The market need is obviously there.

But is any of this working? In some cases, yes absolutely, but more often than not, I see a lot of experts missing the mark.

Many people are named leaders and are placed in leadership positions. You can look on almost any corporate website and see titles of people identified as "the leaders of the company." That doesn't mean any of these people are leading or even know what it means to lead. "Lead" and "leading" are verbs. They are action words.

This is what we, as individuals and the companies we are part of, are all trying to develop--a capacity to lead so we can do a better job leading.

Leading is the act of:

  • Setting direction

  • Allocating resources

  • Enrolling others and inspiring action

  • Being accountable for results

So in order to develop our capacity to "lead" we need to put ourselves in situations that develop our capacity to set direction, allocate resources, enroll others and inspire action, and hold ourselves accountable for results. Period.

I have found that most leadership development programs don't work for two reasons.

1. Participants can't apply what they've learned.

Leadership offsites are great. They give leaders the time to clear their minds, live in the moment, and strengthen relationships with other leaders in the company.

The problem is these offsite training events are often led by academics who use methodologies and theories that aren't rooted in the day-to-day challenges that leaders are facing.

Leaders come away from these events feeling energized and ready to try out their newly acquired skills, but then realize they aren't sure how to apply what they've learned. The leader will quickly return to old habits and ways of thinking because it's what they know.

The capacity to lead is not developed in an academic executive program taught by people who haven't led anything.