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Why most leadership development programmes fail

When 500 executives were asked to prioritise the skills they most want to develop in their organisations, an overwhelming two-thirds pointed to leadership development as their primary concern. It makes sense, then, that 74% of organisations currently conduct leadership training for their workforce.

However, despite this investment, a staggering 88% of individuals believe we are in the midst of a global leadership crisis, while merely 13% of executives express confidence in the emerging leaders within their own companies. Furthermore, fewer than 20% of organisations can boast a bench of capable leaders ready to fill critical roles.

The reality is that traditional leadership development methods are no longer working (and haven’t for a while). Why do so many organisations continue to tread this same path, hoping for different outcomes?

From our years of experience, we have identified three pitfalls that organisations frequently stumble into, resulting in substantial budget wastage on programmes that were never going to affect change – because they were not set up to do so.

1. They neglect the bedrock of behavioural change

Becoming a truly effective leader hinges on behavioural transformation. It means delving into one’s beliefs and mindsets, understanding the interconnection between thoughts, emotions, and actions. Effective programmes recognise that mastering this will drive the results you are after.

The problem is, most development programmes underestimate the significance of this. Consequently, delegates might gain intellectual insights but they will struggle to make the behavioural adjustments that are crucial for achieving their company’s objectives. At Ivy House, we understand the significance of laying a solid foundation for behavioural change – without it, genuine transformation is near impossible.

2. They think that one size fits all

When designing leadership programmes, it’s all too common for companies to leap into assembling an array of desirable leadership skills. They will say ‘a great leader needs this, and a great leader needs that’ and at the end they will have a very full, exciting looking leadership programme.

The problem with this approach is that it skips over the context. In reality, every organisation boasts a unique blend of individuals, culture, structures, goals, and values — each pursuing distinct objectives.

In order to not fall into this trap, it’s important to undergo a rigorous discovery process, that gets under the skin of why this programme needs to exist in the first place. What are the specific outcomes that you, the company and the CEO are after, and what context is the programme sitting within? At Ivy House, we embark on an exploratory journey with our clients from the outset, peeling back the layers to understand their true aspirations and ensuring alignment in our approach.

3. They don’t properly measure or communicate the results

The challenge that many L&D teams face is designing something that that not only drives desired transformation but also substantiates its business impact. Furthermore, the best way for your organisation to demonstrate impact could be very different to the next organisation. Many development programmes will again assume a ‘one size fits all’ approach here, which will miss the mark.

For some, programme success might hinge on promotion rates six months down the line, while for others, it could involve delegate feedback, discernible spikes in revenue and performance, elevated engagement scores on cultural assessments, retention rates, individual goals met, and more.

At Ivy House, we delve deep into the metrics that matter most for each client. We then engineer a comprehensive solution tailored to these metrics, ensuring that the obtained data can be easily cascaded throughout the business.

If you are interested in learning more about how leadership programmes can avoid these pitfalls and lead to genuine transformation, watch the recording of our event that covers more on the topic.


FAQs

Traditional leadership methods often fall short because they do not adapt to the changing dynamics of the modern workplace, which values agility, digital proficiency, and a more collaborative approach. These methods tend to emphasise command and control rather than empowerment and innovation.

For a person to undergo genuine behavioural change, they first need to deepen their own self-awareness. This is the critical first step as it allows for reflection and adaptation. They need to understand how their thinking works, where their areas for development are, and what their impact is on other people and the wider team. Then, from this place, they need the time, space and environment to support them to make changes. This is when new skillsets and mindsets can be introduced and practised in the flow of work. Finally, they need to practice maintenance – reinforcing and sustaining these changes over time.

A ‘one size fits all’ approach to leadership and development assumes that all individuals will benefit from the same training and strategies, regardless of their unique skills, experiences, and challenges. This approach often fails because it does not account for the diverse needs of leaders at different levels or with different backgrounds.

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