Twelve Common Dilemmas of Leadership Development Programs - and what to do about them


Why have many companies that have invested the most

in leadership development

often gained the least?


Robert M. Tomasko



1. Motivation of participants

Make it hard to get in

Self nomination
Application process: students make a case for themselves

Senior leaders hand select participants
Annual competition for limited number of slots
Some potential leader-candidates urged to reapply next year

Make explicit the performance expectations

Allow for self selection

Make successful program completion a prerequisite for advancement

Include in performance reviews:

"What are your top performers doing to raise the level of performance of every other player on their team?"



2. Attendance and commitment

Boss's boss is the teacher

Performance counts

Input to career decisions

Individual and team recognition (public, work group, family and private)



3. Faculty get no respect

Boss's boss is the teacher

Careful choice of permanent and visiting faculty

This is not a program that can be taught by juniors

Participants quickly sense when there is a big gap between:

Leadership as taught in the program, and

Leadership as it it actually practiced in the company



4. Bosses don't know how to teach

Teach them

Evaluate their abilities at leadership development

Provide coaching

Don't allow poor teachers to teach - regardless of their rank in the organization

Give them another role in leadership development (coach, mentor, evaluator)



5. Time

Practice multi-tasking

Study strategy while doing strategy

Develop a strategic plan (budget, etc,) while teaching strategic planning (budgeting, etc.)

Leverage executive teachers' time via technology (video, etc)

Distance learning and distance teaching

Intense/tightly designed group time

No fluff


6. Results

Measure direct impact on business

Not student satisfaction

Customer = current leaders concerned about cultivating pool of future leaders

Not the students



7. Resources

Build the program around senior line executive involvement

Phase-in the program

A small number of high impact successes are better than a thick catalog of courses

Prototype and pilot before roll-out

Results make the strongest case for ongoing investment

Start-up with near-term high payback programs

Don't fund through overhead

Create sponsors: sales/production/support

Let sponsors approve and fund budget

Consider tuition and chargebacks

Starting point: create a market for what the leadership program produces

Set a company-wide leadership development mandate

Require each organization unit to set leadership development targets to which they will be held accountable

Allow them choice of internal, external or self-created programs to achieve the targets

Business units "contract" with leadership program for slots and for consulting in how do design own program

Consider designating some future leaders as "corporate property"

Fund their development as a corporate project ("scholarships")



8. Carts before the horse

These should be driven by the program, not be the drivers of it:




Instructional technology

Course lists



9. Elite vs. democratic

Examine the assumptions that underlie the program:

"Everyone has some leadership potential - it is the job of the company to provide ways every individual's potential can be realized."


"A relatively small number of individuals will set the company's future direction and steer it there - it is the job of the company to carefully select these people, then develop and test them."



10. Who gets developed?

Preselected candidates

By rank:

Are all those in the designated positions potential leaders?

By assessment of individual performance and potential and nomination

By admission test

Self-selected candidates

Allow anyone to make a case for themselves



11. Should the program create clones or mutants?

Is the style of leadership that got the company to this point most appropriate to guide its future development?



12. Leaders and followers

Should a company that teaches leadership also teach followership?



© Robert M. Tomasko 2002



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