What To Do About The Leadership Crisis

I recently read an article about the problems with leadership development. The authors (Gordon Curphy, Robert Hogan, and Robert B. Kaiser) shared some interesting statistics and suggested that leadership development is broken. They outlined six problems that undermine leadership development initiatives and made 7 recommendations regarding what to do about the problems.

Leadership Development Is Broken

Here are the statistics they shared:

1) Over the past two decades U.S. corporations doubled their annual spending on various forms of leadership development to $14 billion.

2) According to a 2012 poll by The Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University, 70 percent of Americans believe there is a leadership crisis that will lead to a national decline unless we find better leaders.

3) A 2011 survey by consultancy Development Dimensions International Inc. of 14,320 executives reported that 38 percent of line leaders and 25 percent of HR leaders gave their organizations high ratings for leadership and only 32 percent and 18 percent, respectively, thought their organizations had the necessary bench strength to meet future business needs.

4) 75 percent of respondents to a Brandon Hall Group survey described their leadership development programs as ineffective.

Given these statistics it is easy to assume that leadership development is broken.

But how do we go about improving this problem? What actions can organizations take to develop their leaders. Here are a few thoughts I wanted to add to the list provided by Curphy, Hogan and Kaiser.

Recognize That Everyone Is A Leader

In this day and age, where knowledge work and complexity are the norm, we need a new perspective on leadership. Leadership is no longer associated with a position or a person. Gone are the days where individuals can rely on one leader - the hero - to solve our problems. Today, everyone must act like a leader.

This even holds true in beauraucratic organizations. No matter how hard you try to create controls such as policies and procedures you will loose the game if you only think of people as resources who need to follow procedures and do as their told. Think of a large organizations like the Department of Defense (DOD). Close to 4 million employees span the globe and perform countless actions - from defending our country to filing paperwork. Although the DOD is a beauraucracy - with rigid policies and procedures - they also recognize that they can't control everything. In an organization as large and complex as the DOD someone at some point will have to quickly make a decision that is critical to the organization's success. Perhaps that is why they invested 172 billion on training in 2012.

Simplify Leadership Development

What if we simplified leadership development.

Leadership development doesn't have to be a grandiose event or program that is costly and time consuming. Organizations don't need to hire expensive speakers to talk about their latest book. They should also think twice about paying for the big box training solutions that corporate training organizations and education institutions offer. These programs are expensive, time consuming, and ineffective. They might be efficient, but paying a sage to stand on the stage and deliver a scripted program does not meet people where they are.

The most effective leadership development happens in short bursts within the context of real world situations. One of my most memorable and effective leadership development experiences happened over a period of six months and countless 10 - 30 minute conversations with my boss and mentor. I was struggling with a disengaged, frustrated, unproductive employee and I was tasked with helping that person improve his performance. In six months I learned more through conversations with my boss than I did in any class I have ever attended. The coaching and guidance I received helped me to learn and apply what I learned within the context of a real world problem and helped me become a better leader.

Leadership Development As A Conversation

What if organizations replaced classes with conversations?

What if experienced and less experienced leaders sat down to exchange ideas in an open and honest conversation with a simple objective - Learn Something?

This doesn't have to be complicated, designed or structured. Leadership development could become a series of 30 minute coaching conversations or 1 hour chats between one leader and another. Sure you could bring in outside sources to engage in conversations but you wouldn't necessarily have to. Curiosity, inquiry, and learning could be the focus of these conversations. Real world issues could serve as the curriculum. Each conversation could start with a simple question like: "What are you hoping to accomplish tomorrow" and the instruction could take the form of thoughtful questions to help each other discover different perspectives, strategies, and tactics.

If we want to improve the way we develop leaders we should improve the way we engage with them. Don't send them to a class. Talk to them about about the challenges they face. Discuss their vision of the future. Chat about their strategy and tactics. Help them find purpose and meaning in their work.

When people have meaningful conversations interesting things happen. People seem to discover solutions that are creative and innovative. Individuals turn into leaders when conversations create a spark and continue to fuel the leadership fire.

The simplest way to help someone grow is to engage in conversations with them.

Let's change the way we think about developing leaders.

Question:  What other actions can organizations take to develop great leaders?