Tag Archives: Leadership Retreats

Why The Mainstream Leadership Development Industry Has Failed and Will Continue to Fail

A colleague of mine referenced me to an article on the Harvard Business Review® Blog Network over the weekend that she knew I would find of interest.  The blog explored a recent study on the level of dissatisfaction corporate boards were expressing on the failure of Talent Management in the corporations they oversee.  According to the study, and to no surprise, Talent Management is failing miserably in most organizations.  I say to no surprise because Talent Management is the latest offshoot of the mainstream leadership development industry, which has perhaps the most dismal performance record of any professional service industry on the planet.  Over the past twenty years alone, corporations and institutions have invested upwards of $1 trillion (yes, trillion) on leadership development.  Yet, only 1% of executives score excellent in eight key competencies of leadership, 90% score below average (McKinsey & Co®), and employee disengagement has been mired at 70% for over a decade (Gallup®).

As I was reading the blog, and here’s the correlation to today’s subject, I came across another entry on the HBR Blog Network entitled, “Why So Many Leadership Programs Ultimately Fail” by a gentleman named Peter Bregman.  In the blog, Mr. Bregman states, “Ever since I started teaching leadership on mountaineering expeditions in the  late 80s, the question of how to develop leaders has absorbed me.  I’ve designed and taught everything from one-day team buildings to 20-day wilderness trips, from business school classes to corporate trainings, from simulations to executive leadership courses.”  At the risk of sounding facetious, which is not my intention, I can’t help but wonder if this question that has absorbed him for 25 years might have been answered if he had ever actually been a leader rather than a career teacher of leadership?

It’s strange to me…no other professional discipline has followed such a misguided path.  Medical surgeons, with decades of experience practicing medicine, are called upon to develop and educate the next generation of surgeons.  Senior scientists educate up and coming scientists.  Pilots are trained by experienced pilots.   Yet, next generation business leaders have not, and are not, being educated and developed by experienced business leaders.  They are being trained by career consultants and organizational psychologists.

The irony that runs through Mr. Bregman’s blog would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.  An author of several best-selling books on leadership, he comments, “What makes leadership hard isn’t the theoretical, it’s the practical” and follows on by emphasizing the importance of not getting sidetracked, distracted or losing focus by stating, “And you can’t learn them from reading a book…”

Mr. Bregman’s main point in his blog is to share an apparent epiphany he’s recently had regarding emotional courage.  This, he believes, is the key to successful leadership.  It’s a fair point, and one that was eloquently written about eleven years ago by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky in their seminal book, “Leadership On The Line – Staying Alive Through The Dangers Of Leading“.  Another irony is that this book was published by the Harvard Business School press.  It’s also a lesson I learned personally in my first business managerial role leading a national sales team nearly 25 years ago.

Another supposition in which Mr. Bregman appears misguided is, “The goal of any leadership development program is to change behavior.”  Isn’t that the goal of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?  Behaviors in the workplace are manifestations of perceptions, orientations and conditioned, neurological responses to emotional stimuli.  This focus on behaviors is just what one would expect by psychologists.  It’s what they know, so it’s what they do.  Shouldn’t the goal of leadership development be to improve business performance by imparting leaders with the tools and adaptive thinking skills necessary to communicate, engage and inspire others to perform at their best?  Isn’t the goal to develop nascent leaders’ ability to lead in any circumstance?

The final kicker in Mr. Bregman’s blog is his mea culpa, “By that measure, most of what I’ve done – and what I’ve seen others do – has failed.”  He goes on to add, “Here’s why: We’re teaching the wrong things in the wrong ways.”  Wow, that’s an amazing statement to read on an HBR blog.  I cannot help but wonder how Mr. Bregman’s past clients feel about the fact that he’s admitting his work, of which I’m sure he’s charged handsomely for, has been a decades long experiment trying to figure out for himself how to develop leaders?  And this grand experiment in leadership development has proven one thing…both Mr. Bregman and the mainstream leadership development industry still has a lot to learn about leadership.

I didn’t write this to personally take Mr. Bregman to task.  This is, however, highly indicative of what’s wrong with the leadership development industry.  Leadership, as Mr. Bregman says himself, cannot be learned from a book.  It must be experienced, first hand, and evolve over time under the tutelage of a seasoned leader.  Unfortunately, there are very few seasoned leaders in the leadership development industry.

© 2013, Terry Murray.

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Filed under Health Care, Leadership Development, Talent Management

A Leadership Litmus Test

Key Concept ~ RogenSi just released their Global Mindset Index survey of employees from around the world, and not surprisingly, the results align with the recent research from other leading institutions and global consultancies.  The long shadow of subpar leadership continues to exacerbate employee disengagement during these highly volatile times.  Companies that recognize, embrace, and act upon the need for a fresh approach to leadership development will win the coming talent war and succeed in creating a flourishing, competitive advantage.  Page six of the Global Mindset Index has a list of questions you may wish to ask your own organization.  Doing so could be a valuable litmus test as to the state of leadership in your company.

One of the key themes I continuously discuss with business leaders is the need to align leadership, strategy, and organizational culture in order to create sustainable, breakthrough results.  Aligning authentic, transformational leadership, mindful strategy, and a creative organizational culture is the recipe for success in today’s dynamic business environment.  Engaging the mind, heart, and spirit of your employees has never been more important.  It is their passion, creativity, and intellectual horsepower that drives the creation and commercialization of intellectual property in today’s economy.  They are the source of competitive advantage, yet from the recent research, it appears this message is failing to find its way to the corner office.

Global consulting firm RogenSi just released the results from their Global Mindset Index survey, and their findings warrant discussion.  Here are some of there findings:

● Fourteen percent of employees say their leaders are inspirational.

● Twelve percent of employees are optimistic about their future opportunities.

● Nine percent of employees state their leaders are creating a motivational work environment.

● Ninety-two percent of employees feel their emotions are being controlled by their achievement at work.  Fear is a significant motivating factor.

● Ninety-one percent of employees are experiencing unstable motivation.  This is due to poor leadership communications, clarity of a shared vision, and a lack of feeling authentic engagement.

● Twenty-three percent of employees are showing five or more symptoms of depression.

These findings align seamlessly with the results published by McKinsey (only 1% of “C” level & “one step down” executives score “excellent” in eight key leadership competencies – 90% score below average), Gallup (nearly 3 out of 4 employees are emotionally and cognitively disengaged with their employer), and Maritz Research (approximately 10% of employees trusts their leadership and believes their honest and ethical – 12% of employees feel their company actually listens to them and cares about them – 14% of employees feel their company shares their own, personal values).  It also supports the disconnect that is apparent when we compare what CEOs say that they want and how they actually behave (the IBM Global CEO Survey found that the single most important leadership attribute CEOs are looking for in future leaders is creativity and the ability to cultivate creativity throughout the organization – yet a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reports that the careers of people that consistently express creative thinking are sidetracked on their way up the ladder).

This slash and burn harvest mentality; of leading by creating fear, may have worked during the Great Recession, but as we slowly pull out of the global, economic malaise it will eventually reach a tipping point.  We may already be seeing signs of this event.  The Department of Labor recently revised the productivity growth figures downward for the year, from 2.7% to 2%, and they’re forecasting growth of only 1.5% to 2% in the foreseeable future.  Perhaps we’re seeing a point of diminishing returns from business as usual?

The problem with creating a culture of fear is that it triggers the fight, flight, or freeze response from our Core Mammalian Emotional System.  These emotions (seeking, fear, panic, rage, caring, playfulness, and lust) are part of our primary survival mechanisms that helped us evolve over time.  We share these hard-wired, ancient emotional systems with all mammals.  For the past several years, we’ve seen the freeze response reveal itself through poor workforce engagement levels. People have hunkered down and gone into survival mode.  As the economy improves, however, and competing job opportunities arise, it will be the best and brightest associates that have the mobility to move on to fresher pastures.  For many organizations, they’re about to reap that which they have sown.

Herein lies the opportunity.  Organizations that lead with authenticity, and approach the management of their organizational culture like the strategic asset it is, will flourish.  Rather than cultivating a culture of fear, creating a culture that promotes seeking (i.e. professional development plans, employee education, etc.), caring (the expression of authentic empathy by leadership), and to a certain degree, playfulness (most juvenile mammals learn survival behaviors through play; depressed mammals don’t engage in play – highly effective leaders laugh three times more often than mediocre managers) will engage the hidden workforce that lies just below the surface in many organizations.  Doing so will also create a talent magnet for high potentials seeking opportunities to join the firm.

This isn’t just about wanting happy associates…this is mission critical to the organization’s competitive positioning, adaptability, and ability to execute in rapidly shifting markets.  If we are to believe the research (and I do), there is such a dearth of quality leadership across business today that a company that elevates leadership development to a strategic imperative will inevitably outperform their competition.  The early adopters of this perspective will be the winners of the new century.

© 2011, Terry Murray.


Filed under Leadership Development

Ten Questions To Ask When Evaluating Leadership Development Programs

The 2010 IBM® Global CEO Survey identified the single most important leadership attribute CEOs are looking for in future leaders is creativity and their ability to cultivate creativity throughout the organization.  More than half of the CEOs surveyed also commented that they did not think they were doing an adequate job managing the growing complexity and unpredictability of the global marketplace.  This reflects the fact that the fundamental driver of value creation in business today (and tomorrow) is, and will continue to be, intellectual property.  Human beings, and their creativity and adaptability, are the raw material for value creation.  This requires leadership to develop subtle skills in order to cultivate this human source of innovative products and services.

Our next generation of leaders must be capable of fully engaging and inspiring their associates, prospects, customers, constituents, partners, stakeholders, and shareholders.  They will need to be capable of aligning their vision with organizational strategy and culture, and continuously communicate with authenticity and empathy.  To succeed going forward, companies must seriously consider adopting a new perspective towards developing their organizational leadership.  This new approach must develop astute generalist that are multi-dimensional and multi-cultural.  Here are some key questions you may wish to ask when evaluating leadership development programs for your organization:

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1.)  Is the program built upon real-world, business leadership experience?

We believe this is one of the most critical questions to ask when considering leadership development programs and executive coaching engagements.  While academics bring theory and research into the conversation, real-world, executive leadership experience provides a context for application.  Institutional research can have great value, yet it is the application and correlation of that research from a practical perspective that drives professional development.  This is why we integrate the two perspectives.  We envision leadership development in much the same way as the development of a surgeon.  After medical school, a surgeon experiences an internship and then a residency in which they’re mentored by senior surgeons handling real cases.  Leadership taught by leaders parallels this approach and philosophy.

2.)  Does the program align with and integrate your business objectives?

Leadership does not develop in a vacuum.  In our experience, leadership development is best conducted in conjunction with a strategic initiative, business project, or organizational function that involves engaging and motivating fellow associates.  Not only does this immediately contribute to your return on investment, it also enables the emerging leader to understand their role within the organization, its culture, and strategic direction.

3.)  Does the program drive your strategy and support your culture?

We believe igniting transformational performance is like lighting a fire.  It requires three critical elements to thrive; Leadership is the heat, Strategy is the fuel, and Culture is the oxygen.  Take away any element and the high performance is extinguished.  When evaluating leadership development programs, ensure the philosophy and approach drives your strategy and fits your culture.  A good fit creates a multiplier effect, delivering multi-dimensional results.  A poor fit will wane and dissipate quickly within the organization.

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4.)  Is the program event-driven or process-driven?

Leadership is not event-driven, it is a developmental process that grows and matures over time, over a continuous succession of events, increasing challenges, escalating responsibilities, and the feedback that comes through mentoring and executive coaching.  While an event may trigger a shift in perspective, it takes time for lessons to  engrain and emerge as positive behaviors and critical thinking.  While a single event may look cost-effective, the organization and leader is best served by a process-driven approach to professional development.

5.)  Is the executive coaching process passive or active?

The traditional approach to coaching is passive.  It insists all the answers must come from the person being coached.  While this approach may have been adequate ten or twenty years ago, it falls short in today’s rapidly changing, sophisticated, global marketplace.  To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of consciousness that created them.”  Today and going forward, we face adaptive, unanticipated challenges that demand a new level of consciousness to emerge.  Not only does this require a shift in perspective, but an entirely new set of management tools must accompany it as well.  It requires an educational element to build skills and capabilities tomorrow’s leaders will need to successfully navigate the turbulent waters ahead.

6.)  Are developmental criteria quantitatively and qualitatively measurable?

This begins with baselining skill sets, leadership style, and the developmental needs of both the individual and the organization.  Key metrics, of both the leader and organizational performance, enables a clear return on investment to be measured and continuous improvement elements of the process to be incorporated throughout the organization.

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7.)  Is the developmental process evidence-based and well documented?

Simply put, are the leadership concepts, skill sets, aptitudes, and perspectives that are incorporated in the process supported by peer-reviewed research and validated through real-world application?  Performance Transformation’s Transformational Leadership program evolved over three years of canvasing the academic research, conducting direct research, development, and validation; and it is supported by more than two decades of direct, leadership experience.

8.)  Is the developmental process multi-dimensional?

Many leadership programs incorporate one, two, or perhaps three key developmental elements.  While historically this approach was often sufficient, the complexity of today and tomorrow’s global markets demands a new level of creative problem solving and adaptability to emerge.  Tomorrow’s leaders must be generalists!  This is why Performance Transformation’s developmental programs draws from more than twelve scientifically-based disciplines to cultivate well rounded, inspirational leaders.

9.)  Is the process anchored to tangible improvements in immediate and future business performance?

The most efficacious developmental programs are integrated with real-world projects and initiatives designed to drive performance today, and tomorrow.  In doing so, stretch goals can be introduced for the future while continuous feedback can be provided on incremental improvements today.  This balanced approach supports engagement, passion, and growth at the edge of professional comfort zones while not disrupting day-to-day operations.

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10.)  Does the program include a Diversity and Inclusiveness element? 

When we refer back to the IBM CEO survey, we should ask ourselves one question…Can we predict where the creative solutions, innovations, and insights may emerge in the firm?  Or from outside of the firm, for that matter?  Diverse perspectives, when authentically included, are the grist for the mill.  Companies that ignore inclusiveness will inevitably miss opportunities for value creation in the future.

© 2011, Terry Murray.


Filed under Experiential Learning, Leadership Development