The First Step You Must Take To Develop Leaders

AdVance Leadership » The First Step You Must Take To Develop Leaders

Welcome to Friday 411, issue #025. In 4 minutes, with 1 insight and 1 action, you will discover the foundational decision you must make to develop more leaders. 

1 Insight

Only 5% of companies develop leaders at every level of the organization. Those companies that do all started with one simple decision.

Imagine that 95% of the people in the world decided to stop brushing their teeth. The cascading consequences of that global decision would be endless:

  • People would be repelled from one another to avoid the reek of halitosis, inhibiting communication and intimacy.
  • As dental hygiene deteriorated, overall physical health would suffer, diminishing quality of life and raising health care costs.
  • As more and more people lost their ability to chew, the average human diet would have to change to softer foods.
  • Everything from birth rates to production and distribution to the workforce to the economy would be altered.

Once you stop gagging over the thought of living in a world where most people neglect dental hygiene, add in another thought. Imagine that while only 5% of the population was brushing their teeth, 85% believed brushing their teeth was good for them.

You would think that was crazy, right? Why would 85% of people believe that brushing was good but only 5% of people actually do it?

As ludicrous as this scenario sounds, this is the case for leadership development:

  • According to the Brandon Hall Study Group, 83% of organizational leaders believe that it is important to develop leaders at all levels of an organization. Yet only 5% of companies say that they have developed leaders at all levels. 
  • Less than 50% of companies use leadership development to up-skill their talent into leadership roles, according to Teamstage.io study.

When companies don’t develop leaders, there are at least 9 catastrophic effects:

  1. Diminished clarity
  2. Reduced employee productivity
  3. Distrust of current leaders
  4. Slower speed
  5. Employee disengagement
  6. Low retention and high turnover
  7. Difficulty attracting outside talent
  8. Bad – or toxic – culture
  9. Diminished profitability

In our years of doing leadership development with companies, we’ve met with hundreds of executives. We hear a common question when they, like 83% of companies, say they want to develop leaders. The question is: “Where do we start?”

One very simple – but not easy – first step is necessary to start developing leaders at your company: you must decide to develop leaders. Just as there is a difference in knowing that brushing your teeth is good for you and actually picking up a toothbrush, acknowledging that leadership development is good is not the same as deciding to do it. 

Four Reasons Why Deciding to Develop Leaders Is Difficult

That first step is simple: you must decide. The decision may be simple, but  it isn’t  easy. There are four common reasons why deciding to develop leaders is difficult.

Reason #1: Time

We hear leaders say: “We’re so busy. We don’t have time to develop more leaders.” Organizational busyness (as we’ve written about before) is the biggest killer of Capacity in leaders and organizations.

This reason begs the question: how much time will you lose when those undeveloped employees leave? 

According to a McKenzie survey of 587 respondents, 35% of people who left a job without another job in hand left because of a “lack of career development and advancement potential.” (I first saw this reported by Ali Merchant – a brilliant leadership thinker you should follow.)

They believed that it was better to have no job than to stay in a job without development opportunities.

Reason #2: Money

Many executives have told us that they don’t have the money to develop leaders. They’re right to recognize the financial commitment. It does cost money to develop potential leaders. But that’s the reason that companies create budgets. A budget predetermines where it is most important to allocate money.

If leadership is important to your company, you’ll find a way to afford it. You might not be able to do a series of high-end leadership development trainings. But starting small is better than not starting at all.

Reason #3: Knowledge

We’ll hear leaders say: “We don’t know how to develop leaders. We’ve never seen it done in any company we’ve worked in, so we’re not sure what to do.”

It’s hard to create something you’ve never seen done before (or you’ve never seen done well). But you don’t have to do all your leadership development in-house. You don’t have to hire a huge Learning and Development Department or create all your own training opportunities.

One of our signature programs at AdVance Leadership is the Unleash Your Leaders Experience. This series trains your company leaders in the 7 characteristics that solve 95% of leadership challenges. With this program, you don’t need to know how to develop leaders. You just need to provide a space for your people to learn and grow. We do everything else for you. (For more information about this program, contact us.)

Reason #4: Risk

One final reason that companies don’t develop leaders is that they believe the investment carries a serious risk: These people we develop will then be more attractive to other companies. Our employees may leave and use their training to benefit another company instead.

To be honest, this is a risk. If you develop the quality and quantity of your leaders, we guarantee you will lose some of them to other companies.

However, there are two upsides to this risk:

  1. If you develop leaders at all levels, you will have a bench of potential leaders to replace the ones who leave.
  2. You will develop a reputation as a company that develops leaders. This makes your company attractive to outsiders. In other words, leadership development becomes a critical recruiting and hiring advantage.

The First Step to Start Developing Leaders

Now that you know the most common reasons that companies don’t develop leaders, it’s time to take the first step to start developing them. You must decide that you will develop leaders.

Many executives get caught in the trap of indecision: you believe that you need to know all the answers before deciding about something. You think you need to know:

  • How much time it will take?
  • How much money it will cost?
  • Will it be successful?
  • Will we see a Return on Investment?

But the trap of indecision is backward thinking. You can’t know all the answers before making a decision. However, you can:

  • mitigate your risk
  • seek wise counsel
  • gather information to make a better-informed decision

But, ultimately, you must decide. Making a decision is always the first step in any significant endeavor. As W.H. Murray, a Scottish mountain climber, said:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creativity, there is one elementary truth…that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. (W. H.  Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1951, 6-7.)

If you’re going to develop leaders, you must decide first and then figure out how.

The One Mistake to Avoid

Once you decide to develop leaders, you will need to figure out how to do it. We’d love to help you with that.

First, avoid the most common mistake: hosting a random program. We see this regularly. Leaders organize an arbitrary leadership program that lasts for an afternoon or a whole day. But there’s no follow-up. No one is accountable to implement strategies from the program. In a few days, everyone forgets the event.

If you want to develop leaders, you must generate a culture of leadership development. One-time programs don’t create a culture.

Resources to Develop Leaders

In order to create a culture of leadership development, we recommend you check out some of our previous articles:

Developing leaders is a risk. We can’t guarantee that developing leaders will be worth the risk. However, we can say that we’ve never seen a company regret the decision to develop its leaders. 

Remember, only 5% of companies have developed leaders at all levels. When you commit to developing leaders at every level, you’ll differentiate yourself from the 95% of companies who believe they need to develop more leaders but don’t do anything about it.

1 Action

Decide if you will commit to developing leaders. Then start figuring out how you will do it. (See the resources above for some help).


Want to help your company unleash its leaders?

  1. Get your team to subscribe to the Friday411 newsletter.
  2. Get your copy of Gettin' (un)Busy, named by Forbes as “one of the books everyone on your team should read.”
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