I Don’t Need Leadership Development November 2014

In the last issue and over the next few issues of this newsletter, I’ll explore some of the common excuses leaders use to avoid going to leadership training. And I’ll share what we can do about the excuse.

Excuse #7: “Leadership development is… too expensive.”

20141117_Excuses7A Closer Look
Compared to what? It’s certainly more expensive than paper clips or staples. But it’s not as expensive as poor leadership!
This excuse typically comes from decision-makers who are responsible for budgeting for leadership development although it could also be a smoke-screen for leaders who simply don’t want to attend leadership development and are using their “fiduciary responsibility” as an excuse.

How do YOU Respond?
Look, the math is easy here. Pick two leaders in your organization, one good and one not so good. Compare the performance (i.e., more efficient, better quality/fewer rejects, more/bigger sales, better customer retention/satisfaction) and engagement (i.e., more innovation, less turnover, more discretionary effort) of the good group with the not-so-good group. How much better is the performance and engagement of the good group? Be conservative! Let’s say the good group is 5% better than the other group. How much of that difference is due to better leadership or management? Let’s say half – that’s 2.5%. Now what’s the payroll of that less productive/engaged team? Let’s say a half million (10 people earning $50K each). Having ONE not-so-good manager is costing the organization $12,500 ($500K x 2.5%); per year.

And how many leaders do you have in your organization who fit into that “not-so-good” category? Ouch! Leadership development isn’t expensive; NOT developing leaders is expensive!

Next Steps

  1. Know the costs and benefits of your leadership development initiative. Include direct costs (trainer salaries, development costs, materials, etc.) and indirect costs (leader time out-of-pocket, opportunity costs, etc.). Identify and quantify benefits including improved performance and productivity, reduced errors/improved quality, more innovation, and employee loyalty/retention. (Check out Entelechy’s Leadership Development ROI Calculator at http://www.unleashyourleadership.com/leadership-development-roi-calculator.) When possible, use real numbers from existing measures – organizational health surveys, employee retention, and exit interview information. When those don’t exist, poll program participants what THEY thought the impact of the leadership development program was on them; in addition to anecdotal stories, see if they can quantify the impact in terms of improved performance, increased discretionary effort, improved quality, reduced turnover of good employees (and swift removal of consistently poor performers), etc.
  2. Be ruthless in slashing unnecessary costs. If you’re considering building your own leadership program from scratch, pause and reconsider. You may be able to purchase a leadership program from a company (like Entelechy, Inc.) specializing in customized leadership development programs. Leverage THEIR models, activities, and expertise. Few of us would build our own house or our own car. While you could build your own leadership program, you might find it less expensive to purchase and modify one to meet your organization’s needs. And, if you built your own, you certainly won’t be creating a world class program out of the gate.
  3. If you DO purchase a program – or component – make sure it comes with authorization to use it and modify it without additional cost. The cost savings year over year can be significant.
  4. Use alternate delivery technologies to cut travel costs when appropriate. However, recognize that the best leadership development DOES call for some face-to-face time; instead of bemoaning the travel costs associated with those face-to-face elements, leverage them: build in evening activities like an executive-sponsored dinner or visit to the central office.

Excuse #8: “Leadership development is HR-initiated, touchy-feely, kumbaya stuff… I’m about results.”


Hidden within this excuse are two related issues:

  • First, when HR (or the training department) leads the charge for leadership development, often the program DOES tend to lose touch with the real issues facing operational leaders.
  • Second, many out-of-touch programs tend to be filled with content that is difficult for participants to translate in how they (or their teams) will apply and benefit from the content.

A Closer Look

For lots of reasons, HR often assumes the role of driver for leadership development at many organizations. That’s fine, as long as the focus remains on productivity, quality, performance, results, margins, sales, and customer retention – the things that drive business results. I’m not saying that HR doesn’t know how to translate “soft topics” like communications or coaching into business results. I AM suggesting that the CFO or senior plant manager or CEO will have a different perspective. For these folks, people (employees) are one of many elements of the business results equation and knowing how to get the most out of people – or a forklift or an assembly line or the fleet or a die press – is a critical skill. Getting the most from a forklift or assembly line or fleet or die press is fairly straightforward; getting the most from people gets squishy.

How do YOU Respond?

Make sure the leadership development program makes a clear link from coaching or communications or feedback or delegation (the squishy stuff) DIRECTLY to improved performance.

Use post-training feedback from graduates of the program as your ally; what do THEY say about the relevance and practicality of the training?

And if your leadership development program DOES have the unfortunate reputation of “touchy-feely happy stuff,” enlist the help of functional leaders to change it!

Next Steps

  1. Find a non-HR senior executive to be the leadership evangelist. Great leaders know that leadership is developed, not innate. And great leaders get passionate about developing other great leaders. Identify and make THAT PERSON the spokesperson for your program.
  2. Cut the happy crap. Fifty percent of most leadership programs is interesting but useless. Building trust, barriers to listening, team building, change management, and interpersonal relations are secondary to analyzing performance, selecting the most appropriate performance intervention, giving feedback to direct and/or reinforce behavior, coaching to develop talent, having those difficult conversations when performance isn’t as required, delegating effectively, etc. You can’t build trust if you’re not seen as a fair, focused leader who has a good relationship with employees. Teach THAT and trust will come. As will teaming. As will change management.
  3. If you’re building a new leadership development program, create a steering committee made up of operational leaders. Make them responsible for ensuring that the content is relevant and that skills are immediately applicable to real leaders doing real work.
  4. Make sure that each module or topic ends with each participant reflecting on and documenting how they will use this skill or technique on the job. Document with whom they’ll use it, and when. Have them share their plans with classmates. Then ask them to share these plans with their bosses. If they’re struggling with how to apply the skill or technique, it probably shouldn’t be in the program. Cut it.

Read more valuable leadership and management-related articles in this month’s Unleash Your Leadership Potential newsletter…

November 2014

Author: STEP Consulting