Developing leadership acumen is a key focus area most leaders lose sleep on. Whether it is evolving the appropriate skills and competencies to develop, or designing the right program or dangling the right carrots to get the program executed. Not to mention, when and how much ‘stick’ to use. The quest for the ‘right formula’ has taken a large mindshare of HR and Business leaders over the past few years.

And, the perfect formula continues to elude most.

This is because no such formula exists! At least, not within the current paradigm of leadership development. What is needed is a complete relook at the way organizations approach the leadership development conundrum. Some of the very fundamental assumptions are faulty.

FAULTY ASSUMPTION 1 : Leadership Development is a service provided by the HR Department

Over the recent years, the HR Department has been streamlining itself to provide services to its ‘internal customers’ in the most efficient manner. Using several new concepts like HR Service Centers, Web-based services, service-level-agreements, HR is your new genie chanting, ‘Your Wish is My Command’. Business Leaders sit pretty, rubbing the little lamp, summoning HR to perform new tricks.

And every time they rub the lamp, HR Analytics runs into a frenzy to calculate how long did it take for the genie to appear when the lamp was rubbed, by what percentage the effort made to rub the lamp can be reduced and whether the lamp can be removed from the process itself.

Most organizations have Leadership Development as a function within HR, called ‘Talent Management’ or ‘L&D’. They fall back on the same ‘service-excellence’ approach as their other HR counterparts in Recruitment or HR Systems use. Their mission is to create the best of leadership development programs, at the lowest cost, with good effectiveness measures and deliver the same with sustained enthusiasm.

As the programs roll out, they provide the Leaders with good-looking, easy-to-understand data, using colourful graphs, to explain how the candidates are progressing on the program, and how the drop-out rate is affecting the program and so on. They are, mostly, anxious, trying to figure out new and better programs to please the customer with improved service.

It’s time to realise that Leadership Development is NOT a service to be provided to leaders-in-waiting.

If at all a service, this service has to be provided by the senior leaders in the system, not HR. And, self-service provided by and for the candidate himself/herself!

FAULTY ASSUMPTION 2 : Leadership Development Programs should be entertaining.

As the young leader-in-waiting is prepared, (s)he needs to enjoy it! It reminds me of Cleopatra’s spa, with essential oils, music and luxurious elements summoned to pamper. Often these programs are conducted at resorts, with good food, parties and gifts thrown in.

Feedback is taken from the participants on how each element of the leadership development program was. They usually raise their brows, look exasperated and lament about how long the program was, how low the speaker’s volume was (‘he should use a mike’ or something more generic like ‘can we get a better speaker?’) or how irrelevant the examples were (‘I don’t see how examples from Accounts Receivables can improve my financial acumen when I work with Cash Application’) or even teach a thing or two (‘I think you can include a psychometric test here’).

I am yet to see a feedback form with a participant asking for some specific support, other forms of development, or feedback for himself/herself. Or, offering some specific support to a peer learner.

FAULTY ASSUMPTION 3: Leadership Development Programs should Provide Learning.

You must be thinking that, by now, I have lost it! But, I seriously mean it. The job of a good leadership development program should be to provide a roadmap and a structure to facilitate a learning journey. It cannot and should not take on the yoke of being a provider of learning. In today’s world of plenty, learning is available all around us, in forms and means that are multiple, easy-to-access and interesting. It us upon the learner how and how much (s)he desires to leverage those.

For instance, you don’t need a 3-day workshop to learn how to design a ‘Business Strategy’: you can read a book, surf some, get a mentor, discuss with couple of your friends who do it for a living and give yourself some assignments to test if you were able to master it.

A 3-day workshop can be fun, and may provide some tools you’d remember for few days but it is definitely not needed. Not at the cost at which it is available!

FAULTY ASSUMPTION 4: Leadership Development should be around the Org’s Leadership Competencies.

While it’s good to have a set of stated leadership competencies, one needs to defocus from them while instituting a leadership development program and focus on the participant instead. These leaders-in-waiting are smart folks who have already been anointed and earmarked for the top jobs. They have the smarts to figure out overall competency development. What they need help around is their blind spot: that ONE annoying thing that will be their Achilles’ heel if not worked upon. A sensible program should hold a mirror and assist them to figure that one thing out and help them work on it.

Your undoing as a leader is not because you score low in 2 out of the 8 stated competencies as per a 360 assessment. It could be just how you obsess with a myopic view of your function and cannot think bigger. What you need here is a comprehensive understanding of why you behave like this, unearthing of any insecurities that might be causing this and good mentoring to remedy it!

FAULTY ASSUMPTION 5: Leadership Development programs are cash-guzzlers.

They need not be! All you need is lots of courage, creativity and commitment to set up a program that helps your leader-in-waiting work on his/her gaps. It requires good processes to keep the system honest towards ensuring that development is happening and being owned and driven by the right sponsors, which include the senior leaders and the leaders-in-waiting.

If these sponsors can be, somehow, made to sponsor Leadership Development, the tools and inputs can be sourced/developed inexpensively.

Till we believe that Leadership Development has to be provided and driven by gyan gurus and top-notch coaches, we will continue to pay till it hurts.

Watch-out for my next blogpost : ‘Where are those 3 Folks You Need for Leadership Development’