Generally speaking, the cardinal goal of leadership is to translate vision into reality. 

In today’s ultra-competitive marketplace, leaders require a particular set of competencies to motivate employees and guide an organisation in realising its mission. 

Leadership development seeks to help organisations further develop the talent they already possess into actionable leaders.

However, there is still a lack of an in-depth understanding of leadership development programs (LDP), and how they can enable leaders to become more effective. 

With this lack of understanding as well as improper execution, many organisations, unfortunately, fail to realise the full benefits of their LDPs.

Leadership development programs

A leadership development program is a specialised program with tailored activities and modules that deliberately seek to augment the leadership skills of supervisors, managers, and executives. 

A well-executed LDP can help produce satisfied employees, reduce unwanted turnover, improve customer retention, and yield impressive financial returns. 

Furthermore, leadership development programs widen the capacity of employees to take on critical responsibilities in a company, like designing and executing business strategies.

What are the challenges in leadership development programs, and why do they fail?

Following are the key reasons why many LDPs fail to deliver results:

1. Not building a custom program with the help of a leadership school

Most organisations don’t work with accredited leadership schools to build a custom program from scratch. 

An accredited leadership training institute like Growth Academy Asia can help a business steer away from generic content and customise their leadership program to suit their employees’ specific individual needs. 

2. Being too academic-based

Unfortunately, many leadership development programs don’t teach practical aspects of the given training. Rather most LDPs are rooted in academic models or theories, without feasible applicability in day-to-day work. 

3. Absence of context 

Many LDP training initiatives take a one-size-fits-all approach. This mainly assumes that the same skills or leadership styles are appropriate regardless of strategy, organisational landscape and culture.

That is why context is key. 

Organisations should avoid investing in off-the-shelf programs or academic leadership courses offered at universities without considering the real-life implications of the training.

4. Ignoring company culture

Many leadership development programs are somewhat disconnected from the company’s culture. 

In order to be effective, LDPs are required to have a clear understanding of an organisation’s culture to seamlessly integrate strategies without alienating or discouraging employees.

leadership development programs
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

5. Lack of a clear vision and direction on strategy and values

Strategic direction and vision significantly affect the effectiveness of any management team. Unfortunately, many organisations consistently struggle with unclear strategic direction and values, often leading to conflicting priorities.

In turn, this creates confusion and disconcerts employees when senior management is not fully committed to a new direction.

Here, it may be difficult to expect employees to be able to deliver effectively with the disparities between what they are learning from the LDP vs what they are seeing within their organisation. 

6. Not tracking data and real-life results.

Many organisations do not track the outcomes of the LDP training. As such, they have no baseline upon which to measure to know if a program is appreciably improving their organisation. 

So, even if a leadership development program is actually effective, if an organisation fails to track the right metrics, its success might not be appreciated.

7. Lack of support

Many LDP training exercises don’t facilitate organisational change and are unable to help employees to apply their new knowledge and skills in the long term. As a result, employees have less power to effect change in the systems surrounding them.

Part of the bottleneck is that many LDPs are not designed to involve employers. 

Therefore, the trained employees lack support and face resistance from team members who are reluctant to experience the disruption that could be caused by the changes.

Generally, LDP participants should have a platform to share what they have learned, and discuss ways to implement effective change. However, if top management doesn’t create a space to consider the new ideas, the LDP will fail. 

Without time to practice, and positive feedback from their own leaders, the LDP participants will most likely fail to effectively apply what they picked up from the training. Thus rendering the development program virtually unsuccessful.

8. Not being scalable

Large organisations with multiple branches face issues with scaling and standardising the quality of LDP training across their different locations. 

These scalability challenges mainly pertain to geographical barriers that present unique standardising challenges due to culture or organisation structure disparities. 

9. Poor application and engagement

Most LDPs focus on delivering information with limited time spent on developing the leaders themselves. In actuality, many leaders already know what they should be doing. 

However, what they actually lack is the personal development techniques to execute their theories. 

In most instances, leaders return to work after a leadership development program and get overwhelmed by tasks. As a result, they find it exceedingly difficult to translate what they learned in an LDP session into action that addresses real-world problems. 

And because many management teams still don’t create a platform for LDP training applicability, they end up wasting the efforts that participants took while being in training. 

What can you do about it?

Here’s what you should consider as an integral part of your leadership development strategy:

Develop an intentional plan and learning goals

The success of a leadership development program largely depends on planning and identification of core objectives to achieve from the training. 

In this line of thought, ensure to create a plan that will allow team members to learn from each other’s experiences and challenge them to develop practical solutions.

 This, in turn, will make employees better leaders and improve collaboration between the top and middle-level management, while avoiding an approach that is too academic-based.

Leverage transformational leadership modules

In practice, transformational leadership modules help organisations to understand whether the changes they have implemented will be successful, or not. 

An effective leadership development program ensures that leaders keep a keen eye on what’s occurring within their teams while seeking innovations that can positively impact their company.

 Transformational leadership modules essentially link these two elements things together. 

Without them, newly inspired leaders will have no idea how to take that learning and implement it. 

So, ensure this critical aspect of leadership development is assimilated into your LDP to get the results you desire.

Track metrics

After the execution of an LDP, ensure to track measurable metrics like decreased staff turnover, increased revenue, overall staff satisfaction, and team cohesion.

This can go a long way to show that the leadership development investment has been worthwhile. 

Ensure to have a distinct idea of what the leadership development program should have a positive impact on to guide your key performance indicators (KPIs).

These KPIs can variate depending on the priorities of the organisation. 

As such, organisations are encouraged to work with the program provider to ensure that the LDP content of the course delivers the exact knowledge their aspiring leaders will need. 

Subsequently, this will allow them to check the data themselves to determine if staff turnover has been affected, or if there are improvements in revenue or output.

Engage high-level managers in the learning process 

Ensure to immediately involve senior leaders in the learning process. This goes a very long way in building morale in employees. 

Engaging leaders prior to, during and after the learning process can help correct and improve learning outcomes over time.

So, what makes leadership development programs successful?

A comprehensive LDP carefully selects participants from an organisation’s pool and has adequate funding, dedicated administrators or development staff. 

Furthermore, it typically constitutes awards ceremonies to visibly reward current and aspiring leaders for behaving in accordance with the officially designated competencies.

Organisations should show their commitment to the LDP by intolerance of poor leaders. 

Ineffective LDP participants and current leaders who demonstrate an unwillingness to improve despite the organisation’s support should be removed from the program. 

Additionally, a successful LDP should give aspiring leaders challenging opportunities early in their careers. As a result, a well-designed LDP should nurture and give enough responsibility to participants to allow them to take risks and make an impact despite the fear of mistakes.

give enough responsibility
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Nonetheless, smart organisations create safe spaces for trial and error, thereby increasing their learning capacity. This means that mistakes should be tolerated, provided they’re in service of the business, and participants consequently learn from those mistakes. 

Additionally, successful LDPs ensure that young leaders receive tailored training and development based on their individual needs. It also makes sure that older leaders receive broadening experiences and educational advancement opportunities.

Conclusion

All things considered, organisations should effectively develop leaders through training and demonstrate the impact of these efforts. 

Furthermore, it is also imperative to review the amount of time required for effective training. 

When concepts are forgotten, the leadership competencies learnt can offer an additional research opportunity for the company.

Additionally, the failure of a leadership program can only be proven by measurable metrics. 

However, instances of failure can be avoided with effective communication strategies and positive environments that allow the transferability of concepts by LDP participants.