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Why Leadership Training Programs Fail to Deliver the Results You Want

We've all been there: you invest in a leadership training program and hope to see the promised results. But, months later, nothing has changed. Meanwhile, your team is still struggling with communication and collaboration issues.

Did you know that only 50% of leadership training programs yield the desired results? That's a pretty startling statistic, and one that should serve as a wake-up call to any company looking for increased productivity, better employee engagement, and reduced turnover. The reason is simple: Leadership development programs don't always deliver the ROI they promise because they're often designed in isolation from your organization's specific needs. 

We all know that leadership training programs are not a one-and-done deal. They require continual reinforcement and upkeep to be effective. But why do they fail in the first place? 

It's not just you, it's pretty much everyone else too. Leadership training programs have traditionally failed because of a few key factors. In this blog post, we will share all that can go wrong so that you can create more effective leadership programs by focusing on what matters most to your business. This way, when it comes time for evaluation at the end of your program, you'll know whether or not it was worth investing in.

Factors that contribute to the failure of leadership development programs

1. A system that does not support the desired behaviour

If the system does not change, it will set people up to fail. Research in the 1950s found that most supervisors regressed to their pre-training views after a while. The only exceptions were those whose bosses practised and believed in the new leadership style the program was designed to teach.

Training programs do not facilitate organizational change. Even well-trained and motivated employees are unable to apply their new knowledge and skills when they return to their units which are entrenched in established ways of doing things. In short, individuals have less power to change the system surrounding them than that system has to shape them. Organizations need “fertile soil” in place before the “seeds” of training interventions can grow.

When organizational change and development efforts are championed by senior leaders then training gains the most traction. That’s because such efforts motivate people to learn and change; create the conditions for them to apply what they’ve learned; foster immediate improvements in individual and organizational effectiveness; and put in place systems that help sustain the learning.

Organizations are systems of interacting elements: Roles, responsibilities, and relationships are defined by organizational structure, processes, leadership styles, people’s professional and cultural backgrounds, and HR policies and practices. All those elements together drive organizational behaviour and performance. If the system does not change, it will not support and sustain individual behaviour change—indeed, it will set people up to fail.

2. Lack of Clear Direction on Strategy and Values

The effectiveness of any manager depends on the clear strategic direction that they have from the top management. Many companies consistently struggle with unclear direction on strategy and values, which often leads to conflicting priorities. This creates confusion and dissipation of valuable resources. When senior executives themselves don’t work as a team and are not fully committed to a new direction or acknowledged necessary changes in their behaviour, it is quite difficult to expect the rest of the managerial team to be able to deliver effectively. The problem then is more about the incongruence between what they learn in the training program and what they see on the ground in their organisation. 

Sometimes a top-down or laissez-faire style by the leader prevents honest conversation about problems. Employees hesitate to tell the senior team about obstacles to the organization’s effectiveness. This, coupled with a lack of coordination across businesses, functions, or regions due to poor organizational design and inadequate leadership time and attention to talent issues can create an environment where performance will be hindered, no matter how good the training program is. 

Hence while developing leadership programs, it is important to start at the top, ideally through a coaching intervention. Coaching of the senior executives will help bring clarity on the strategic direction and values. This can then be cascaded down to the next few layers through group coaching and training. 

By addressing management practices and leadership behaviour that shape the system before training individual employees, leaders create a favourable context for applying the learning. The systemic changes encourage—even require—the desired behaviours.

3. Absence of Context in the Leadership Training

Too many training initiatives rest on the assumption that one size fits all and that the same group of skills or style of leadership is appropriate regardless of strategy, organizational culture, or CEO mandate. 

Context is key. One size does not fit all. Many organizations invest in off-the-shelf programs or send their managers to academic leadership courses offered by well-respected universities without considering the real impact and results they are looking for. While these can be great for the individuals in terms of their personal brand building, it does not serve the purpose for the organization. Companies need to ask themselves what the desired outcome is and how a program will relate to specific organizational goals.

4. Employing a One-and-Done Program

Often, leadership training programs are offered as a one-and-done approach. In other words, you attend a 2-day training and that is the last you hear of it. But while a one-and-done approach satisfies the need to do something, it ignores a critical fact: leadership behaviours and new habits are developed over time. Leadership development is all about creating good leadership habits. As we know habits cannot be changed just from attending a 2-day class.

Effective leadership development needs to be constructed as a learning journey that unfolds over time. But not only this—it should incorporate continuous coaching to help observe and reinforce good habits. It should also provide opportunities for skill practice and application. Nothing can replace on-the-job training and giving real-time feedback.

To ensure success for your team, combine professional development with coaching or mentoring sessions focused on practical application.

Summary

So, there you have it – some of the key reasons why your leadership training program may not be delivering the results you are hoping for. 

Becoming a more effective leader often requires changing behaviour which also means adjusting underlying mindsets. Identifying some of the deepest, “below the surface” thoughts, feelings, assumptions, and beliefs is usually a precondition of behavioural change—something that’s often missing in leadership courses. 

Companies can avoid the most common mistakes in leadership training and increase the odds of success by first doing the groundwork of creating fertile soil for desired change, establishing clarity about strategic direction and values, matching specific leadership skills and traits to the context at hand; embedding leadership development in real work through coaching and mentoring interventions that investigate the mind-sets that underpin behaviour. 

For designing effective leadership development programs in Singapore and India, reach out to us at contact@soaringeagles.co.

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