5 Reasons Leadership Development Fails

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5 Reasons Leadership Development Fails

Plenty of organizations are developing leaders internally and creating their own leadership development programs. Research, however, shows that investing heavily in leadership seminars, workshops, retreats, books, and so on won't necessarily directly create the leaders you want. While these tactics can greatly aid the leadership development process, in the long run, you may still fail to build true leaders.

Here are some common reasons why leadership development efforts fail and don't create the leaders you want, as well suggestions for how you can increase the likelihood that your leadership development efforts build your employees into the leaders that you need and desire.
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Growing Your Rising Stars

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Your organization may have some rising stars – high achieving employees with the ability to move up in your organization and carry the demands of your organization’s most challenging and promising opportunities. You may love their work, think highly of their potential, but notice a few skills or abilities that need some development before promoting them to the next level. Here are a few ways to grow and engage your rising stars.

Uncover their (and your) objectives.

According to a 2011 study conducted by the Corporate Leadership Council, 1 in 5 emerging leaders believe their personal aspirations are different than the plans of their organizations. Obviously, there’s a strong disconnect between what emerging leaders want from a career and what they think their organization wants from them in the future. Before your organization pours resources and time into the process of developing these employees, be sure that both of your objectives match. Similarly, in order to know how to develop your rising stars, your organization needs to determine its long-term objectives and the talent it will need to achieve those. For example, will your business be expanding? Will its product/service line change? What skills will it need? How will technology affect your workplace? When will leaders retire or move on? Growing your best people often requires good workforce and succession planning.

Place on intense assignments and in challenging roles.

Research shows that intense, challenging, and risky assignments are the best learning experiences for growing leadership capabilities – and more meaningful than traditional job rotation programs. These developmental assignments not only engage the rising star, but also allow your organization to evaluate how well the employee performs on new challenges they have not experienced and where further development is needed. Similarly, rising stars should be placed in challenging roles and positions – perhaps an undeveloped area of the business, a department that is underperforming, or a potential business opportunity that has not yet been ceased. It’s important not to shield rising stars from the realities and stressful situations they will face in future roles. Rather, throw them into the fire, but build in support.

Provide formal training and development opportunities.

While job experiences are one of the best ways to grow rising stars, there’s no replacement for the classroom. Seminars, activities, and instruction are a necessary supplement to leadership development initiatives and frequently are used to grow capabilities in key leadership topics like change management, presentation, communication, influence, and negotiation. Other formal development opportunities such as attendance at conferences, certification programs, advanced degrees, participation on boards, and involvement in professional associations can all be helpful in growing capabilities. Rising stars will need to acquire knowledge not only in their organizations and through experiences, but also externally from facilitators, coaches, and peers.

Engage in regular feedback and dialogue.

A conversation once or twice a year isn’t going to grow your best employees. Development done right requires frequent conversations and dialogue. This dialogue can address how the employee is performing and provide direction, guidance, and coaching on new stretch tasks and development opportunities. It can also help gauge their engagement and satisfaction with the initiative and how they are progressing in their development plan. These conversations often can help avoid derailment – failure or underperformance at the next level – a common problem many leadership development programs experience.

Beyond one-on-one dialogue, 360 feedback is another common leadership development tool that can help your rising star determine how their style and competencies are perceived by others in the workplace such as managers, coworkers, and customers. The results can be used for follow-up coaching and training.

Use your current leaders as resources.

While most development responsibilities fall on HR or line managers, seasoned leaders and top managers can (and should) be actively involved in mentoring and developing rising stars – not just evaluating and selecting who these leaders will be.  Oftentimes, exposure to current leaders and tapping into their perspectives, knowledge, and experiences can be very effective in growing future leaders if they want to be engaged in the developmental process. It can also engage your rising stars, providing them with opportunities to interact and build relationships with your senior staff. Plus, your organization may save on other developmental costs such as use of an external coach or mentor that is not as ‘in tune’ with the workings of your company.

A range of work experiences, developmental activities, dialogue and feedback, and use of current leaders is a simple recipe for growing your rising stars into higher levels of your organization and engaging them.

Additional Resources

The Emerging Leaders Series
Have the emerging leaders within your organization been identified? Do they have the skills and knowledge needed to best represent your organization? This two-part series covers professional etiquette in and out of the workplace, communication skills, and the traits of a strong leader. Participants will learn tools to present themselves more effectively and enhance their contribution to the organization. 

Leadership Development Training
Developing your leaders or managers? Check out the range of courses we offer to help you grow talent of all levels and especially managers and leaders. Click here

Coaching, 360s, & Talent Management
ERC offers several developmental services including employee, manager, and leadership coaching, 360 feedback initiatives, as well as assistance with talent management projects including workforce and succession planning to support your leadership development initiatives. For more information, please contact consulting@yourerc.com.

4 Ways to Develop and Retain Leaders

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4 Ways to Develop and Retain Leaders

Do you have some people in your organization who you might label as “high potential” or perhaps an “emerging leader”? If so, what are you doing to develop and retain those employees? If the answer is “nothing” or you’re not sure what you can or should do, here are a few ideas to consider.

Assess Your Talent.

So your gut tells you that the new college grad that’s been interning for the last year who just accepted your offer to come on full time could be on the fast track to a very successful career. Before you sign her up for every leadership course in town or name her the successor to your CEO, you may want to consider assessing her leadership skills or at least getting some kind of a baseline in terms of her personality, skills, and abilities that you can compare against some benchmarks to see if your gut matches up with actual data. This can help you help your emerging leader understand what her strengths and weaknesses are, how she “ranks” compared to other leaders in your organization or based on whatever benchmarks you use, and can help set a nice baseline on which you can build an individual development plan to help her move forward on that fast track to success.

Assign a Mentor.

The benefits of mentorship programs are well documented, and the benefits to an individual you have labeled as a high potential leader are equally as, if not more, attractive. It’s not only a great way to enhance the development of an employee and more quickly get him familiar with how the organization works and how to make things happen, it can also be a wonderful retention tool.

Invest in Your Talent.

Just because you put seeds in the ground doesn’t mean your garden will grow. It takes a lot of time, care, and feeding to make sure the roots take hold and the flowers blossom. The same is true for your emerging leaders. Just because you’ve identified them as having a lot of potential for growth doesn’t mean they’re going to get there on their own. It takes an ongoing investment of time, training, and resources to make sure their roots take hold in your organization and their leadership skills blossom in the future.

Let Them Know.

Maybe. Depending on the culture of your organization and the maturity of those you’ve identified as high potentials, you may want to consider letting them know you think they have potential. On one hand it can be a great confidence booster and great way to increase the chances you’ll retain that person. On the other hand, if he or she already possesses a great deal of confidence (and doesn’t hesitate to let everyone else know about it) then you may want to take a different approach.


The bottom line is that when you have identified talent that you believe will help your organization long term, it makes a lot of sense to invest some time and thought into how you can increase the probability that talent develops in a positive way and that person stays with your organization for the long term.

Emerging Leader Training Series

Emerging Leader Training Series

Have the emerging leaders within your organization been identified? Do they have the skills and knowledge needed to best represent your organization? In this 3-part series, participants will learn tools to present themselves more effectively and enhance their contribution to the organization.

Learn More about Emerging Leader Training