Despite the time and money organisations devote to improving the capabilities of managers and nurturing new leaders, a survey by a UK business school reveals that only 7% of senior managers believe their companies develop global leaders effectively.
This statistic is cited by Pierre Gurdjian, Thomas Halbeisen and Kevin Lane, writing for McKinsey Insights & Publications. They also point out that around 30% of US companies admit that they have failed to exploit their international business opportunities fully due to a lack of leaders with the right capabilities.
Having talked with hundreds of chief executives and observing initiatives that have succeeded and failed, they have identified four of the most common mistakes, and offer some advice on how to overcome them:
1) Overlooking context. The authors suggest that companies ask themselves in the earliest stages of planning a leadership initiative: what exactly is the programme for?
If the answer, for example, is to support an acquisition growth-led strategy, there will be a need for leaders with the ability to devise successful strategies for new or expanded business units.
On the other hand, if the answer is to achieve growth through capturing organic opportunities the need will be for people at the top who are able to nurture talent.
Leaders need to be equipped with two or three competencies that will make a significant difference to performance in context of the overall aim.
2) Decoupling reflection from real work. Planning the programme’s curriculum is a “delicate balancing act”.
Gurdjian, Halbeisen and Lane explain that there is value in off-site programmes in educational settings, offering people the opportunity to escape the pressure of work. But they also observe that adults retain just 10% of what they hear in lectures compared with the nearly two-thirds of what they retain from practical learning.
What’s more, even the most talented developing leaders have difficulty in transferring their off-site experiences into changed behaviour on the front line.
The answer, therefore, is to tie leadership development to real-life projects on the job that can have an impact on the business as well as improve learning.
3) Underestimating mindsets. A change of behaviour is often required for becoming a more effective leader. But Gurdjian, Halbeisen and Lane point out that organisations are often reluctant to address the root causes of leaders’ behaviour and mind-sets.
For instance, training programmes promoting the virtues of empowerment and delegation are unlikely to lead to successful adoption if the participants have a mind-set that is controlling.
4) Failing to measure results. If businesses don’t track and measure changes in leadership performance over time, any improvement initiatives will gain little credence.
Feedback on the programme is often the method for evaluation of leadership development, but Gurdjian, Halbeisen and Lane warn that there’s a danger of trainers learning to “game the system” by producing a syllabus that’s likely to please participants rather than challenge them.
However, the authors insist that targets can be set and achievement monitored, and leaders can learn from results over time and make adjustments as necessary.
“One approach,” they explain, “is to assess the extent of behavioural change, perhaps through a 360 degree feedback exercise at the beginning of a programme and followed by another one after six to 12 months.”
There is also the option of monitoring the career development of participants after the training. You can track how many have been appointed to more senior roles in the one or two years following the programme, or how many people in senior roles within the organisation went through leadership training.
The business impact can also be monitored, especially in cases where training is tied to breakthrough projects, with relevant metrics used, such as cost savings or sales.