4 Common Leadership Development Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

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Done right, leadership development can really impact  bottom-line results. Done wrong, not so much. Why, then, do some programs yield striking results and others fail?

Getting it right may be as easy as not making four common mistakes. Avoid them, and you'll maximize your development investment and increase the likelihood of achieving great results for you and your organization.

Mistake #1. Ignore your business context. Getting it right in leadership development starts with matching the skills to be learned with your business situation. One-way learning or one-size-fits-all programs are less likely to equip your emerging or established leaders with skills that apply directly to your organization's needs. Consider what competencies will be most useful for leaders in your business environment, what the training is for, and use those to drive your initiatives.

Mistake #2. Separate the process of reflection from real life application. It's one thing to think about the application of new information; it's quite another to actually apply a new behavior when you're on the job. The best results occur when programs tie leadership development to real on-the-job projects that have a business impact and improve learning. Stepping away from the demands of the day and taking time to evaluate leadership styles and behaviors is an essential component when building new leadership traits. But so is stepping up to real-world challenges and applying new skills in real-time. The most effective programs combine the opportunity to reflect on performance along with hands-on real world application to build a foundation for lasting behavioral change.

Mistake #3. Underestimate the importance of mind-sets. Becoming a more effective leader often requires changing behavior. Although most companies recognize this means adjusting underlying mind-sets, often these organizations are reluctant to address the root causes of why leaders act the way they do. Successful adoption of new behaviors needs encouragement at every stage. It’s true that some personality traits (such as extroversion or introversion) are difficult to shift, but people can change the way they see the world and their values.

Mistake #4. Fail to measure results. The best approach involves more than simply collecting participant feedback. To really understand the impact a program has had, organizations should look at improvements over time. One approach is to assess the extent of behavioral change, perhaps through a 360 degree–feedback exercise at the beginning of a program, followed by another one after 6 to 12 months. Another approach is to monitor participants’ career development after the training. How many were appointed to more senior roles one to two years after the program? How many senior people in the organization went through leadership training? How many left the company? Following up on performance after the development program can tell you whether or not the training improved customer service, or employee retention, or levels of engagement or bottom line profits.

Avoid the most common mistakes in leadership development and increase the odds of success by matching specific leadership skills and traits to the context at hand, embedding leadership development in real work, understanding the mind-sets that underpin behavior and monitoring the impact so as to make improvements over time. (McKinsey & Company, Europe, 2014). Sidestepping these four common mistakes can help companies develop stronger and more capable leaders, save time and money and boost morale.

At Executive Forum, our job is to help you avoid these common mistakes. Our time-phased learning programs help leaders at all levels to master new skills, applying them in real-life situations and forging a solid foundation for continued development. Find out more about how our leadership development programs will help your organization build the skills that support long-term business success. Call 503.635.3079 or contact us for more information.

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