In October of 2016, the influential Harvard Business Review published two articles on the failure of leadership development. The first, titled Developing Employees, Why Leadership Development Isn’t Developing leaders. The second, Spotlight On Building the Workforce of the Future – Why leadership Training Fails-and What To Do About It. According the authors of the former, American corporations spent $160 Billion in employee training and education in 2015, and received little of value.
The problem seems to be threefold:
- Senior leaders and HR departments seem to believe there is a causal relationship between employee training and organizational transformation. A belief that has never been justified;
- The training itself. Too much training is classroom learning that is removed from the actual work experience; and
- The systems are unyielding.
Both articles spoke to the “context” and “systematic context” or an eloquent way of saying that training was not aligned with organizational systems. One article was clearer, “the individuals had less power to change the system surrounding them than the system had to shape them”. Exactly! Systems are virtually always stronger than an individual. So, spend billions on training and nothing on systems development and … perfect scenario to waste a lot of money.
In our view, the solution is not to change the training but to change, or more accurately, design the system. When it comes to leadership, design the leadership system like we would any other system. Applying systems thinking to leadership we can articulate the major components of a leadership system to be:
Structure around a primary focus or intent.