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How to Improve your Leadership

by Kevin D. Crone

October 31, 2016

How do you attract, build, and retain leaders so that you can compete successfully in the marketplace? How do you invigorate your leadership training and development initiatives?

These were a couple of key questions our worldwide organization asked human resource professionals and managers recently, as part of our research project. The following is a small taste of what we uncovered.

* Traditional models for building, attracting, and retaining high-potential people aren’t functioning anymore. Human resource professionals generally followed the model constructed in the eighties by the Centre for Creative Leadership, which stated that 70% of development comes from on-the-job stretch experiences, 20% from coaching and mentoring, and 10% from internal and external training, books and study. Fifty percent of the resources went to executive development, 40% to management, and 10% to supervisory personnel or occasionally others selected as high-potential people. The stages of growth were believed to follow this order:

  1. lead self
  2. lead others
  3. lead functions
  4. lead organizations

Our research uncovered that a less formal practice has taken hold whereby individuals are structuring their own development.

It’s truly a jungle out there, and everyone is on their own – especially during cutbacks to training and development budgets. (Canadian companies rank way in the back of the pack as far as putting money toward the development of their people, even in the best of times.)

Today, high-potential employees can look up any answer, network with successful people, take the “best of the best” courses, develop a mentoring relationship with a boss or outside mentor, and for the most part, determine what they need –  a personalized and customized approach. Yet resources are still allocated using the old model. But if the old model worked, why is there such an engagement problem?

If management is trying to deal with an engagement problem, it would be a good thing to invest in leadership development and, at the same time, be more flexible with resources. The following questions arise that affect the business and employees:

  • Aren’t there numbers of people with potential who leave because no one pays attention to them or gives them formal training?
  • Aren’t there more high performers in mid-management, supervision and the ranks, just waiting to be developed to their best advantage?
  • If managers are fatigued, do they really need more academic, knowledge-dump seminars, or semi-annual planning and review sessions?

Personal improvement plans exist for everyone, yet few in human resources and management really expect training and development to result in changes in behaviour and habits.

Should training work or should it just be about lecturing academic exercises?

I just spoke with a highly respected human resource professional in a growing company with a management team that’s driving terrific engagement initiatives and improving their survey scores (now showing that 93% of their people are engaged). Yet she realized that her firm is not developing leaders who are as good as they thought they were. Their mentoring and short-seminar approach isn’t doing much to create a stable of future leaders with improved habits. The fact is, leadership is such a concern because it’s simply hard to find and develop leaders.

Organizations need leaders who can create change, engage employees, keep morale high, lessen fatigue and develop people. Every company needs these farsighted people now so that they can build the capacity of their business and create market change readiness so they can continue to grow or, in some cases, wake up the business. The traditional way of sending such trainees to the best university or seminar isn’t working. Knowing isn’t the same as doing. All of us know better. People learn best by doing under the guidance of a coach, and the follow-up and practice should never end.

2 Big Questions Today:

  1. Does your organization have a culture that creates and encourages constant learning and practice? Is it adequate or inadequate?
  2. Are you waiting for your company to promote you, develop you, and take care of your future? Regardless of the size of your business, your leadership is already required, and it’s in demand. Seize the opportunity. Be responsible for making sure you develop your skills.

There are currently many challenges, including:

  • Using fewer of the firm’s resources, how can organizations effectively reach more people who work from their own home office or outside the home-office area? It’s costly to bring everyone in for training.
  • Unfortunately, little effort has been put into making training more than an “event”. Only 10-30% of most event training is transferred to an employee’s job and it seems too cumbersome to measure any ROI.
  • There are many factors and barriers to making training work, and most companies don’t have the tools or put in the effort to find out exactly what the stumbling blocks are, and how to transcend or fix them. As a result, many managers and human resource professionals give up and don’t believe much in training. They wind up throwing  case-study academic models of learning at their managers and low-value, quick knowledge-dump seminars or pep talks at the rest of their people. They make training an outside job, instead of fixing the barriers inside and demanding more from training.

For example, too few high-potential people are connected to their manager in ways that they can see him/her as a coach or mentor. As a result, few know where their business is going and what they need to do to be a vital part of it. They’re left to figure out on their own what they can do to get better, and what’s necessary for them to grow. This scenario could explain why those who do grow feel compelled to leave; they wind up bringing their new skills and attitudes to their new employer. Again, employees want to feel valued and connected (engaged) and they want to grow into opportunities. Build your people, or they will leave.

Learning to be a better leader isn’t just about studying modules, learning exercises, or partaking in guided discussions. It’s about getting a picture of what’s required and where to lead in the business; making sure you are connected to your role and part; looking at the reality of your behaviour, thinking and attitudes squarely in the eye; mapping out what needs to be improved; being engaged with training and coaching that makes you practice over and over the behaviours with follow-up and built-in accountability to use it until you are comfortable and in the habit, especially under pressure.

That is truly an inside job. That’s serious commitment to growth and change. You know what I mean – you’ve been there.  It’s an internal process for each person, and it isn’t about theory. If your training doesn’t include all those factors, especially the practice, then it probably won’t stick. It’s been proven that anyone can change in the right supportive-yet-stretching environment, with the right coach and appropriate training structure. Lasting skills, attitudes, and habits can be gained and the business has automatically grown in capacity to compete when it happens.




  • What occurred to you today?
  • What will you do to make your own leadership, or your people’s leadership, better
  • How can you improve your training initiatives to actually make people better leaders?

Have a great week!

Kevin D. Crone
Dale Carnegie Business Group
(905) 826-7300

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