Often leaders look to training to fill the leadership gap in their organizations. They identify the best and brightest, the “high potentials”. They then send them to extensive leadership training to become better leaders. Ta da! You now have a trained “leader”. This common approach to leadership development is doomed to fail because training is only the beginning of leadership development.
Catalyst, a women’s leadership think tank, believes that leadership development follows a 10/20/70 effectiveness rule: 10% of development comes from training; 20% comes from mentoring and 70% comes from leading big, visible projects with stretch goals, big budgets and high risk. Thus the majority of development comes from “doing” leadership rather than “knowing” leadership.
Leadership training needs to be embedded in a broader approach to leadership development by identifying organizational needs, gaps in leadership skills and projects or positions for employees to develop their leadership skills. Only then does it make sense to provide leadership training in the context of that next stretch assignment.
I often find that many of my students “know” what the concept of positioning means, but when I ask them to actually use the concept in the development of a real world strategy, they struggle to use it. Why? Because knowing is different than doing. You have to know something before you can do it. But to really learn it, you have to do it.
Many organizations send people to training before there is a clear plan where they will use these newly acquired leadership skills. Thus, newly trained employees can sit for months or even years without the opportunity to practice their leadership skills. The result is over-trained, over-mentored employees who are frustrated because they can’t put their training to work. People need the opportunity to practice their newly learned skills. Training is not a strand alone solution, it needs to be linked to succession planning.
Many people believe that individuals need to have a personal identity of “leader” before they can lead others. In other words, you have to have the confidence to believe that you are a leader before you can lead. I believe just the reverse. Behaviour is what changes beliefs. In other words, if I act like a leader long enough, I will begin to think that I am a leader. We develop the confidence to lead through the experience of having successfully led. “Being” a leader is the result of “doing” leadership.
The bottom line: Leadership development starts with knowing about leadership, proceeds to doing leadership, and ultimately results in being a leader. But relying exclusively on training to develop leaders is like assuming that vanilla is the only ingredient in a vanilla cake – it’s bound to be a disaster.