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Recently, as I was talking with a client about “developing their leaders,” I was reminded of a Harvard Business Review article by Victor Lipman who noted, “As I neared the end of my corporate days, I realized I’d received much more management training in the last five years than I did in the first 20 years – when I really needed it – combined.” (Why Do We Spend So Much Developing Senior Leaders and So Little Training New Managers, Harvard Business Review, 2016). Due to this, new leaders (i.e., frontline managers) are often put into a “sink or swim” situation. In fact, a survey of HR leaders and practitioners conducted by the Human Capital Institute found that “only 48% of organizations adequately invested in frontline manager development” (HCI, 2015).

At the same time, businesses spent over $83 billion on leadership development in 2019 (Freifeld, L. 2019 Training Industry Report, Training, 2019). Why the disconnect? Most organizations believe that since senior leaders control and/or impact larger portions of the company’s assets, more development should be devoted to them. However, this thinking misses the most critical issue – organizations should act to “maximize the impact” of any development efforts. Therefore, HR executives should look to obtain the highest possible return on their leadership development investments.

Unlike what occurs at most organizations, front-line managers need more – and more effective – leadership training. In fact, Gallup found that supervisors/front-line managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement. And, since actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity, new leader training needs to be a key component of every organization’s learning and development plan (Gallup, State of the American Workplace, 2017).

Unfortunately, most leader training and development initiatives show a poor return-on-investment (Holland, R. Companies Waste Billions of Dollars on Ineffective Corporate Training, Forbes, 2016). So, what is the answer?

An integrated approach – first, identify the individuals who possess the necessary foundation for leadership along with the potential to grow their leadership capabilities; second, provide development/training that is focused and includes a personalized component; and third, ensure that the necessary support exists throughout the organization.

  1. Identifying Leadership Potential

Based upon years of initiatives and research with numerous organizations throughout the world, E.A.S.I.-Consult® has identified several capabilities that are required for a leader to excel. These include the 4 Pillars of Exceptional Leadership:

  1. Strategic Agility
  2. Engaging Leadership Applied Across the Enterprise
  3. Innovation and Continuous Improvement
  4. Developing Talent and Leading Through Others

Unfortunately, these capabilities are rarely evident in new leaders, and virtually never in persons who are not yet in leadership roles.  Therefore, it is crucial to undertake a valid and systematic assessment of the individual’s “leadership potential.” For example, E.A.S.I.-Consult’s LP-Q® Process has successfully identified persons with necessary levels of the 4 Pillars of Exceptional Leadership. And, when assessing for potential, the first 3 Pillars are most important.

  1. Focused and Personalized Development

As Forbes outlined, American companies continue to spend more on training/learning most every year (Holland, R. Companies Waste Billions of Dollars on Ineffective Corporate Training, Forbes, 2016), but much of this training is worthless. McKinsey & Co. (2011) found that only 25% of respondents to a 2010 survey found that training improved employees’ performance. Overall, corporate training commonly makes the following mistakes: 1) the training has no strategic focus, 2) the wrong employees attend the training, and 3) the training does not address the skills most critical to the business’s stage of development.

In order to avoid these mistakes, training/development – especially leadership development – must address the capabilities that are proven to lead to exceptional leadership (i.e., 4 Pillars of Exceptional Leadership), must involve persons who have shown to possess the appropriate levels of potential (via Leadership Potential assessment), and must be integrated into the strategic direction of the overall corporation. Therefore, customized development, which includes one-on-one coaching, with persons with a high level of potential, has proven to be an effective approach to accelerating leadership (Coutu, D. & Kauffman, C. What Can Coaches Do for You?, Harvard Business Review, 2009).

  1. Support Throughout the Organization

As detailed by Beer, Finnström, and Schrader and Edmondson and Woolley, organizations need “fertile soil” in place before the “seeds” of training interventions can grow. Research that examined a corporate training program aimed at improving problem solving and communication between managers and employees discovered that success varied across the company. Improvements were greater in units that had already developed a “psychologically safe” climate in which subordinates felt free to speak up.

From all these streams of research, we’ve learned that education and training gain the most traction within highly visible organizational change and development efforts championed by senior leaders. That’s because such efforts motivate people to learn and change, create the conditions for them to apply what they’ve studied, foster immediate improvements in individual and organizational effectiveness, and put in place systems that help sustain the learning (Beer, M., Finnström, M, & Schrader, D. Why Leadership Training Fails – And What to Do About It, Harvard Business Review,2016).

E.A.S.I.-Consult® has been identifying and developing leaders for over 20 years. And we recognize that the typical “leadership training program” is nearly always a poor investment. Instead, identifying and then developing persons who will become exceptional leaders requires a different approach. It requires a partnership with a group that can recognize and identify true potential, develop and provide development interventions that are personalized, impactful, and long-lasting, while also recognizing, and then implementing, the organizational changes that will be necessary to support these efforts.  Without this comprehensive approach, you would be better off spending all of those “leadership development dollars” on a fabulous holiday party!

 About the Author

Joseph Gier, Ph.D. is Vice President – Consulting Services at E.A.S.I-Consult®, and is a licensed Psychologist.  E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized organizations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. Utilizing scientific approaches, E.A.S.I.-Consult provides superior results to Business – Driven by Science. Our specialties include leadership and leadership potential assessment, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, competency modeling and organizational change, online employment assessment, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about E.A.S.I.-Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.