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Has Leadership Development Lost its Way?

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As organisations emerge from down-sizing and cut-backs, a new voice of confidence is entering the conversations we have with HR professionals about their plans to develop their top talent and future leaders.

Alongside that buoyancy is a quieter expression of concern.  Call it a nagging doubt.

People are asking – “Are we really

  • Developing the leaders we need for the future?
  • Challenging the prevailing culture and making the changes we need?
  • Selecting and developing the right people – in the right way?”

Is your organisation at risk of repeating the mistakes of the past?

Too often I hear HR professionals say that they know what needs doing, it’s just that someone’s stopping them from achieving what needs to happen.

There’s evidence that organisations are still creating old-fashioned leaders who are poor role models; topping hierarchies that are poor business models; using selection methods and tools that are poor development models.

My intention is not to undermine your careful plans.  It’s just to offer a quick reality check that your plans do align with your organisation’s most pressing needs.

What are the four big dangers?

1.Failing to recognise that today’s environment is uniquely complex and rapidly-changing

  • The solution to complexity is not more complexity
  • It’s about preparing people for the challenges of simplicity and flexibility
  • It’s about dealing with ambiguity and new paradigms

The best change is embedded when the people are fully engaged, passionate about, new and better ways of doing things.  Employee engagement is the win-win of change.

2.    Sheep dipping people in out-of-date training with the illusion of saving money

  • You can achieve more meaningful change – more quickly and more sustainably by selecting leaders who can deal with this new complexity
  • Developing these people in more focused ways
  • Leader-created learning environments for their people

3. Confusing short-term high performance with sustainable leadership

  • Yes, great leaders have a track record of delivery but we need today’s leaders to involve and inspire others too
  • Solution? Equip them with tools that create an environment of confidence, possibility and creativity

4. Expecting to develop “well-rounded leaders”

This is the biggest illusion in the leadership development business – and it’s costing millions.

  • You may have bought into well-researched academic ‘leadership competency models’ – with the best of intentions
  • Solution? Leaders need well-rounded teams, full of sharp people.  Optimising team strengths, not just individual ones.

The truth is, an individual only needs two, three or maximum four strategic leadership strengths


  • Because really, their role only needs this much
  • Because they’re part of a wider team, who should also be bringing their best to the table.

Expecting too much of your people means your organisation will miss out on the strengths they do bring.  You’ll miss out on the chance to really build on their potential and you’ll miss out on the chance to leverage those strengths for the team’s and the organisation’s benefit.

Here’s a checklist you might find useful

  • Align your future leaders with the organisation’s needs
  • Develop your people’s skills to focus on strategic solutions
  • Embed successful ways of fully engaging people in positive change
  • Develop future leaders to bring their strengths to the table
  • Enable them to bring out the best in their colleagues and direct reports
  • Support people to think, involve and inspire each other  – not just act

Think you’ve heard it all before?

As part of my role, I measure the results, outcomes and benefits of what our team achieves.  We’ve got the ROI evidence to show that we can –

  • Save your organisation significant time, money and pain
  • Embed leadership behaviours that people will use in practical situations
  • Improve your staff, customer and supplier relationships

Am I being too provocative?  What do you think?   Has leadership development lost it’s way – or is your organisation fully-equipped to engage and develop your people?  My passion is supporting leaders to feel well-resourced and confident to deliver – so I’d love to hear your success stories too.


Author: Helen Caton Hughes

Leadership and Team Coach based on inspirational and practical tools. Works with leaders around the world; trains coaches to International Coach Federation standards. Passionate about finding best ways for leaders to inspire themselves and get the best from their teams

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