Top 6 Reasons Your Leadership Development Program Is Failing

CEOs count on their managers to keep their teams motivated, inspired, and productive. It’s a key element of any company’s success, so businesses are willing to sink big money into leadership training for their managers. In 2018, $366 billion was spent globally on leadership training, with $166 billion of that coming from the U.S. It’s become a huge industry, but one that has been yielding disappointing results—a lack of solid leaders is still a chief complaint of CEOs, even after the billions that have been spent on training efforts.

Knowing why so many leadership development programs fail can help you avoid the pitfalls and help your company succeed in 2020. Here are the top 7 reasons so many of these programs don’t work, as well as solutions to improve them.

Reason #1: People Don’t Want to Be There
There’s an old saying that applies in this case—you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Giving a manager a developmental opportunity to become a successful leader doesn’t matter if they aren’t motivated to give training their best effort. Here are some reasons employees may not want to participate:
• It’s extra work for them.
• They don’t see how it will help them.
• They resent it and feel defensive about it.
• They don’t think their extra effort will be noticed and rewarded.
There are several ways to get employees to buy into their training, including:
• Open the training opportunity to high-potential individual contributors who will be motivated by the prospects of a promotion.
• Make “graduation” from your program a prerequisite to any management position in the company.
• Involve each participant’s manager, who is in the best position to “pull-through” the leadership lessons.

Reason #2: Training Too Late
According to research published in Harvard Business Review, most first-time managers have an average age of 30. Training ideally should be started as soon as, or even before, an employee begins managing others. But that doesn’t happen often. The average age managers first receive any leadership training is age 42.

In other words, most managers have a full twelve years to develop bad habits or to lead on instinct alone. It’s harder to break a bad habit the longer you’ve been doing it. Instead of waiting so long to send managers to leadership training, companies should make that move as soon as they hire or promote someone to a management position. Those key employees should know what they are doing before they begin interacting with their staff.

Reason #3: Outdated “Sage on the Stage” Training
Remember those boring teachers and professors you had in high school or college? The ones who drone on, thinking the audience is hanging on every sleep-inducing word that comes out of their mouth? That’s how some leadership training programs are still today. Too many of them rely on guest speakers and predictable table group activities.

Research has shown clearly that today’s millennial managers want their training to be delivered similarly to how they consume information outside of work. Think YouTube, Google, Instagram stories. They want training anytime, anywhere, in the palm of their hand. You shouldn’t eliminate high-quality face-to-face learning but should focus much more on content that is mobile-first and delivered in bite-size chunks.

Reason #4: Too Much Training, Not Enough Coaching
Leadership comes down to behaviors, and both breaking and creating behaviors is hard. (Just ask anyone who is trying to eat healthily and hit the gym a few times a week.) Knowing something doesn’t often modify behavior. The “knowing-doing” gap is legendary and assumed to be over fifty percent for classroom training.

What does change behavior is coaching—someone leaders can work with to set a goal, develop an action plan, and be held accountable for results. That’s why the most senior leaders are usually given a coach. But at an average cost of $500 per hour, it’s too expensive to assign a traditional coach to every manager. Successful companies today solve this by giving every manager—especially first time managers—a group coaching experience, or an AI-powered coach which are now entering the market.

Reason #5: Training Doesn’t Align to Competency Model
Another common reason leadership development programs fail is that they don’t align with how managers will actually be evaluated. Too often the content being trained is different than the competencies measured in a 360 survey or different than the drivers measured in an engagement survey. In most organizations, engagement is siloed off from training and development. The simple solution is to hold a series of alignment meetings so all parties can agree on what the right set of behaviors will be trained, coached, and measured.

Reason #6: No Follow-Through
Even when a manager wants to implement what they’ve learned during leadership training, it can be lost in the daily grind. They get too busy and bogged down in daily time-sucking tasks to remember what they’ve learned in training. Real-world interferes, so managers focus on tasks, rather than people.
So how do you help managers to apply what they’ve learned? Some options:
• Enlist the help of their manager.
• Use a behavioral nudge engine to send weekly, or even daily, messages. To ensure these are valuable nudges, and not nags, make sure the messages are personalized to the individual manager’s personality and focus areas.
• Provide an executive coach, AI digital coach, or group coaching experience.
Making Leadership a Priority

Despite all the resources spent on leadership programs, many attempts to nurture and create a great leader fail. If support, resources, coaching, and follow-through aren’t provided after the training, all the time and money companies are spending to develop their leadership is going to be wasted. Supporting their leaders needs to be a top goal for companies—even after that leadership training is complete.
Kevin Kruse is the CEO of LEADx, an AI-powered platform that helps leadership development professionals sustain and scale their existing leadership training efforts. He is also the author of Great Leaders Have No Rules, Employee Engagement 2.0, and 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management.