The Leadership Skill Myth – Why Leadership Training Fails

The Leadership Skill Myth – Why Leadership Training Fails

By Arthur Carmazzi

leadership experience new layout“Leadership training has the lowest transfer rate of all soft skill training categories.”

Why does Leadership training fail? There are those who would have you believe that leadership is a set of skills, a specific recipe that one can follow and apply to inspire others to achieve greatness. Yet this magic formula that is considered the holy grail of productivity, management, and motivation seems consistently elusive…

But, multiple sources and statistics underline that training and human capital development does considerably and positively affect an organizations bottom line (especially in the age of the millennial employee).

“Companies that fail to invest in employees jeopardize their own success and even survival. In part, this practice has lingered for lack of alternatives. Until recently, there simply were not robust methods for measuring the bottom-line contributions of investments in human capital management (HCM) — things like leadership development, job design, and knowledge sharing. That’s changed. – Bassi & McMurrer (2007).”

ATD reports: “Employee learning and development is taking center stage as business leaders increasingly understand that a highly skilled, knowledgeable workforce is critical to achieving growth and success. In its 2006 State of the Industry Report, the American Society for Training & Development (ATD) finds that leading organizations increased learning investments in two key areas: annual expenditure per employee and learning hours.”

So if training works, why does leadership training often fail to improve a manager’s ability to lead? Where is the discrepancy between training success and leadership development? Here are some excuses I have heard:

The people here are slow. They cannot remember the material because they have too much going on.

People in this class just aren’t interested enough to take the time to develop what they are taught… they are fundamentally apathetic

People are too busy playing with their phone to pay attention to the class

…but the real issue is consultants and trainers who read books and regurgitate a list of “skills” leaders should have and call it leadership development. They will argue that by applying specific practices that an individual can be a great or at least good leader, and of course they will teach you these skills for a small fee. and here we are… back to the original question “Why does Leadership Training Fail?”

The myth begins with the idea that competencies are directly related to specific skills. And that “Skill” is a set of rules and actions… “Do this, get that”. Since much of the leadership theory comes from either experience or a statistical analysis of successful leaders, here in lies the problem! If you cook, you have likely given a recipe to a friend that loved your special dish… and then They MESS IT UP!!! How is this possible? They have a complete recipe with ingredients, amounts and processes… how can they POSSIBLY GO WRONG? …and yet they do. So having a “recipe” for leadership with a “proper set of skills”, seems to have the same effect.

SO specific skills do Not Equal Leadership Competency

According to The Corporate Leadership Council:

Leadership Effectiveness Explained by Different Profile Characteristics indicates that Competencies Are the Key Contributors by 66% (Corporate Leadership Council 2008)

But what competencies? And are they developed in the same way by everyone?  Through each personal individual strengths, weaknesses, experience

In the 2008 extensive research by Barbara A. Andres, Relationships Among Leadership Skills and Program Effectiveness… from a set of 8 archetypes, 6 can be successful leaders, each having unique skills and processes.

This is backed up in a 2013 research we did at DCI with a 70 company sample of poor, average, good and great leaders. Our findings indicated that the only consistency among “great” leaders was an awareness of self, and how they were affecting the people around them. Application of this awareness varied from person to person. Those who were considered “Poor” leaders, lacked that awareness.

SO a great leader is not confined to a set of actions that can be copied

According to a DCI study in 2007 relating to training effectiveness, we discovered that when individuals tried to emulate specific Leadership Models, 47% appeared inauthentic and their leadership effectiveness varied from up to 8% less effective, to marginally improved based on peer evaluations over 1 month performance. 32% had little to no application or practice of the learning, 16% show significant improvement, and 5% was inconclusive.

SO applying standard leadersh
ip models is Not an Effective way to develop leaders

Since awareness is the key factor in successful leadership, but each person has and applies different skill sets in different ways, i.e. communication is a foundational “skill”, yet, there is no ONE specific style or process of communication that significantly stood out above the others. And what worked for some, did not work for others…

The Solution:

Each potential leader must meticulously develop their own personalized Ideal Leadership Identity based on a self-awareness process that helps them discover who they are at their best in different environments like home, friends and areas of passion.

Next, potential leaders must reinforce and practice this Leadership Identity until it becomes natural in all environments.

Pascarella and Terenzini (1991, p98) report that student involvement or engagement (active learning) be used since a substantial body of evidence suggests that the greater the learner’s involvement in the learning process, then the greater the level of content acquisition.

A 2007 ASTD study indicates that repetition over 9 days and practice over 2 weeks results in active and measurable long term performance improvement

No change required

If change was required for this process to work, it would be less effective since anything new, has a longer acceptance, learning and implementation time. But this process takes existing characteristics, from multiple environments and refines them. And when a potential leader is more aware of how and when to
access their better self, and see the results in real time, leaders become visibly and sustainably more effective. And, in the case of weakness, (for example a Forbes, March 2014 article indicated that fewer than 10% of leaders exhibit strategic skills), a great and aware leader would be able to leverage on his people and their strengths to compensate and involve others in the process.

What to do now

First, stop training leadership skills and focus on a Leadership Experience that supports an Ideal Leadership Identity, create a constant feedback system for the potential leader, implement on site coaching to have real time awareness of actions, model personal successes and applicable role model successes that are congruent with potential leader’s current unrefined leadership characteristics. Learn and apply strategies to create a leadership enriched environment that supports perpetuation of an a greater leadership identity and supports leadership development in those around the potential leader in the process.




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