Does Leadership Development Really Work?

We all know that good leadership leads to better results than poor leadership. But does leadership development lead to better leadership?

Not an idle question. Organizations of all types—yours included, most likely—collectively spend literally billions of dollars every year on management development. (With an infinitesimal fraction of that gravitating to your faithful correspondent.)

Are those dollars well spent? Are executives getting their money’s worth?

For her Ph.D. dissertation, Doris Bowers Collins, asked those very questions (in 2002). Bowers, associate vice chancellor for student life and academic services at Louisiana State University, and former president of the Association of College and University Housing Officers International, analyzed the results of 83 studies of “managerial leadership development interventions.”

She determined that: Leadership Development certainly does help managers learn more about leadership and management.

Okay. But what about: affecting bottom-line results?

Good question. With a frustrating answer.

Dr. Collins basically concludes: We just don’t know.

There isn’t, you see, very much data to analyze on that subject.

In her words:

[E]ffectiveness of managerial leadership development programs across studies measuring financial outcomes could not be estimated, and conclusions cannot be drawn regarding financial outcomes until adequate empirical studies are performed.

Few studies are available perhaps because financial performance (or overall profitability) would be less responsive to individual behavior change in the short time period typically needed to train individuals, evaluate the training program, and report the results in the literature. Evaluations of programs with a financial outcome would require longer periods of time than many companies are willing to devote. In addition, organizations are typically resistant to publishing financial outcomes as a result of training programs, especially when the results are negative. Therefore, organizations are more likely to measure knowledge or behavior outcomes that are thought to be responsive to leaders’ behaviors within the time frame of the study.

So, as has been the case for a very long time, Leadership Development remains an idea that seems eminently reasonable. But, truthfully, remains essentially an act of faith in so far as quantifying actual return on investment.

Still, if you believe, like tens of thousands of your colleagues in the civilized world, that Leadership Development pays for itself many times over, you should definitely check out Richard Jadick’s content. He’s one of the best keynote speakers in town.

LIFE BALANCE: A Lifetime Journey, Not a Brief Trip

One of my favorite questions that I ask during an interview with a prospective management candidate is: “Tell me what you have done in the past to develop yourself and what you are currently doing?” The answer to this question reveals a great deal about the motivation and priorities of the candidate. We want to know if he has a motivational speech that will help him in his daily tasks as a manager. Let’s look at several typical answers and what I conclude from them.

Answer #1: I am normally so busy working such long hours that I don’t have much time to pursue developmental activities beyond what I do at work. Certainly this answer tells you that the candidate believes that he or she is a hard worker, but it also reveals a great deal about the priority that the person places on his or her personal development. When someone does not have enough time for self-improvement, it sends up a “red flag” of warning about the candidate’s motivation to succeed. There is always time to work on improving oneself IF the person really wants to. It has been my experience that most successful leaders recognize that developing and maintaining their leadership skills is a lifetime pursuit – not something that is only done at college or at company sponsored seminars. Contrast the above answer with the one below:

Answer #2: Since the day I graduated from college I have always pursued activities outside my job to improve my knowledge and skills. For example, after graduating from college I took additional courses in areas that I thought I needed and made a concentrated effort to read the latest management books in a variety of subjects. In addition, I am always reading business journals whenever I have a moment to spare such while traveling and waiting to see a doctor.

It is obvious which person is more motivated and likely to succeed in future jobs. Bennis and Nanus found, “It is the capacity to develop and improve their skills that distinguishes leaders from their followers. The researchers came to the conclusion that “leaders are perpetual learners.” Their nature is to always be curious about learning new things – asking frequent questions and probing for understanding.”

No matter what level you have achieved in your career, you cannot afford to become static. All too often, leaders reach a certain plateau in their organizations and then begin to coast. In a sense, they become bloated, out-of-touch caricatures…..happy, but ineffective. Simultaneously, the nature and scope of their operations continue to change, leaving them obsolete in terms of knowledge and skills. According to Jeffrey Schmidt, a managing director at Towers Perrin, “You have to assume that the half-life of the skill set you’ve got is about three to five years.”

Think of how enthusiastic and energetic you were to acquire new job knowledge when you first began your management career. More than likely, you were like a sponge – learning everything you could as quickly as possible. You probably took stacks of industry studies and trade journals home each night and studied them diligently.

The bottom line is that if you truly want to reach your highest potential as a leader, it is imperative that you continue this almost child-like zest for learning throughout your career. AND THIS MEANS MAKING TIME FOR YOUR PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT.