A colleague recently sent me the following Forbes on-line article … “The #1 Reason Leadership Development Fails” (here’s the Link). It’s a short article and a quick read. The gist of the article is that the reason leadership development fails is “training”. To elaborate a bit, the author states “Training is often a rote, one directional, one dimensional, one size fits all, authoritarian process that imposes static, outdated information on people. The majority of training takes place within a monologue (lecture/presentation) rather than a dialog.” I think this article and the topic deserve some discussion. As I am clearly an advocate for leadership development – and for training – a few immediate questions may come to mind:
– What is it about leadership training that (in the opinion of the author) causes it to fail?
– Training is a critical part of improving any skill, so if you I can’t get training, where does that leave my efforts to develop as a leader?
– Can the shortcomings of leadership training be addressed?

Actually, if you do an internet search for “Why Leadership Training Fails”, you will find plenty of articles that list other reasons that training courses and programs fail, including lack of senior management support, no followup or sustainability, political barriers, no time to implement/apply learning, and no way to measure effectiveness.

All good, legitimate reasons. So, what can be done?

Let’s start with the training itself. I would agree that if the training is “one directional” and a “monologue” that it will not be effective. The author’s answer to fixing the problem is simply to “coach them, mentor them, disciple them, and develop them.” There’s not much more he provides other than his differences between training and development. So let’s talk about the actions an individual can take if they want to improve their ability as a leader.

Despite what the author states, I feel the right type of training is a good first step. A good training class can deliver what a prospective leader needs first and that is (1) a basic understanding of leadership, (2) examples of how leadership can impact an organization, and (3) some actions and steps to start moving their leadership development in the right direction. A bit more on leadership training … I do agree that there needs to be dialog but it needs to be more than that. I’ve taught a number of leadership classes and been involved in developing a couple programs. Based on evaluations, anecdotal evidence, testimonials, and some measures, I know that training can be successful. Effective leadership training should include different vehicles for learning like personal reflections, small and large group discussions, exercises and readouts, presentations and discussions with established leaders, videos and anecdotes that support concepts, action planning, and, yes, some lectures. This will provide understanding on leadership and key concepts, spark deeper thinking about leadership, and provide some initial direction for the leader-in-training.

As for the arguments and reasons for why leadership development fails or why courses don’t change leadership of individuals or groups, let me provide a simple solution: Individual Commitment. If the individual is not committed to improving him or herself as a leader, it’s a non-starter. In many cases, an introductory course can help create that commitment. If the individual is truly committed to improving their leadership, all those barriers matter very little. What does Individual Commitment mean?
– Committing time every week (at a minimum) to leadership development
– Identifying critical leadership skills (for your situation) and working to improve those skills
– Repetition and Practice … that is, taking on new challenges (big or small) that will develop/strengthen skills or repeatedly applying the new skills you learn in your current role

Having some support (from a mentor, supervisor, coach) helps, but “senior management” support is not required. If you can’t find one person around you who can serve as a mentor/coach/adviser, you aren’t looking hard enough. As for the other barriers …
– You own the follow-up … this is why action planning is important: A plan gives you things to follow up on
– You make the time … this also ties in with action planning and continuing your investment & study after the course
– You will be able to see yourself grow and improve, and can also get feedback and guidance from your mentor or coach

To recap:
– If you want to improve your leadership, start by making a personal commitment.
– If you want a deeper understanding of leadership, a good first step is to find a training course that has a variety of vehicles for learning and includes developing a longer term plan (as discussed above).

What next? I will provide some ideas in a future blog but see below for one option.


For those looking for a good leadership training course, regardless of your location, one option is an on-line leadership program that I am developing with a colleague. It will include interactive webinars, podcasts, small group discussions, reflections, and exercises to explore/practice concepts. This is a six month program starting in late February that will require approximately two hours of time per week. Go to the Home page to receive information on outcomes, topics, timing, and cost when it becomes available.