Pathologies affecting Leadership Development

Why do leadership programs fail? Ask this question to L& D head and he will give you laundry list of reasons.

Douglas A. Ready is professor of organizational behaviour at London Business School and based on his experience he gives three reasons (he called them pathologies, which is accurate) for failure of leadership program.

#1 The “Ownership Is Power” Mind-Set

“I own the people. You just rent them.”

–              Jack Welch to Business Heads of GE

In a global organisation, there are multiple power centres (regional heads, corporate heads, line/functional heads etc.); each wants to be consulted on design of leadership program esp. if it involves employees from their region or function (since they “own” high potential candidates). But at the same time they do not take ownership of program.

The CEO wants leadership pipeline in place, but give this responsibility to corporate HR and forgets about it. Corporate HR in turn needs support from regional HR. Regional HR is more in alignment with regional head than corporate HR. This leads to guarding turf, withholding information and nonparticipation.

This ownership mind-set results in out-of-touch CEO, intermittently involved line/regional/functional managers, internal warfare within the HR function, and a pool of prospective leaders who don’t know what was expected of them and are unable to link the objectives of the company’s leadership program to their businesses’ priorities.

path 1

# 2 The Productization of Leadership Development

“We spend $120 million a year on this stuff, and if it all went away tomorrow, it wouldn’t matter one bit. Leadership development in this company is nothing more than a series of disconnected programs sold by consultants to training managers who don’t understand our business.”

–          Head – L & D of Fortune 500 company

Above statement sums up what pathology of productization at work is.

HR is under pressure to deliver the leadership program, so it outsources design and implementation to consultants who come up with standardized products. These may not be relevant to organisation’s business and strategy, resulting in disconnected leadership-development models and initiatives.

Top management begins to view leadership development as code for products that are divorced from business issues and sold by consultants to line managers looking for quick answers and HR managers looking to help the line at almost any cost.


# 3 Make-Believe Metrics                                  

Metrics used by HR for measuring effectiveness of leadership program are higher utilization rates of the company’s leadership center, the number of people sent through the programs at below-target unit costs, and an increase in the use of the company’s e-learning technologies to train managers in leadership skills etc.

These metrics do not answer critical questions like, “Are we better able to fill key jobs when they arise?” or “To what extent are our leadership programs building managers’ commitment to our strategic direction?”



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