Why Leadership Programs Fail And Why Pathways Are Better

AdVance Leadership » Why Leadership Programs Fail And Why Pathways Are Better

Welcome to Friday 411, issue #052. In 4 minutes, with 1 insight and 1 action, you’ll learn the difference between leadership programs (that are ineffective and expensive) and pathways.

1 Insight

Leadership pathways are a critical building block to developing leaders in your company. Pathways have four features: they cultivate specific traits, provide practical and actionable strategies, foster peer support, and commit to a sustained, long-term development process.

Leadership programs are a dime a dozen. But they’re much more expensive than a dime.

We’d like to introduce you to a client, Joe. Before working with us, Joe had spent nearly $100,000 of company money on a one-day training. His expenses included flying in his leaders, covering all accommodations and meals, and a $25,000 speaker fee.

When we asked about the outcomes of that pricey program, Joe gave a disheartening answer: Despite the significant investment, he had seen no significant changes.

The Four Building Blocks of Leadership Development in a Company

Like Joe, executives across the world are experiencing a leadership shortfall and know they need to invest in leadership development.

  • They don’t have enough leaders. 84% of companies expect a leadership shortfall in the next 5 years.
  • They don’t have leaders who can accomplish big goals. Only 18% of organizations say their leaders are “very effective” at meeting business goals.
  • They don’t have a pipeline of future leaders. Only 19% of companies believe they are very effective at developing leaders.

To make matters worse, 83% of companies say that it’s important to develop leaders at all levels. Yet only 5% have fully implemented development at all levels.

Executives know they need to develop more leaders. In fact, 58% of organizations say that their top priority is “closing leadership skills gaps.” But few executives know where to get started. They make several common mistakes:

  • Ignoring leadership development internally and hoping that hiring external candidates will fix everything.
  • Leaving leadership development up to each individual, believing that leaders will eventually emerge.
  • Assigning leadership books or articles without any context or follow-through.
  • Hiring professional presenters to give a 1-hour motivational talk that costs big bucks with little results.

Here is the harsh reality. If you aren’t intentional and strategic in leadership development, leaders rarely emerge. You won’t develop more leaders, nor will you develop better leaders.

Instead of hoping leaders will magically emerge, use 4 Building Blocks to develop more and better leaders at your company:

  1. Define leader.
  2. Describe the traits of a leader at your company.
  3. Enable leadership conversations.
  4. Create leadership pathways, not programs.

In this post, we’re focusing on Building Block #4 – Pathways. (If you want to learn more about all 4 building blocks, check out this article.)

Unlike programs, pathways utilize four critical features for long-term leadership development.

Feature 1: Pathways Develop Specific Leadership Traits

Pathways focus on cultivating specific leadership traits that all leaders need to develop, regardless of their level. Some companies identify their own traits that they want to focus on.

If you want to learn how to do this, follow the 7 steps in this article.

If that sounds like too much work right now, feel free to utilize our AdVance Leadership Unleashed Leadership traits: Character, Competence, Capacity, Clarity, Community, Culture, and Consistency. These traits collectively solve at least 95% of the challenges leaders face. For an in-depth exploration, click here.

Feature 2: Pathways are Highly Practical, Not Merely Inspirational.

Programs focus on inspiring leaders. They want you to feel good. Inspiration, though important, is fleeting. It encourages but rarely equips for the necessary skills to change.

Pathways, on the other hand, emphasize practicality. What leaders truly need are actionable strategies, best practices, and effective habits that lead to long-term success.

For example, building trust is a common goal in leadership development. A program may inspire you to build trust with your team members, but you would walk away with few tactics for actually doing so.

At AdVance Leadership, we created a pathway that helps leaders intentionally and proactively build trust within their organizations. We do this by utilizing three types of trust essential for every working relationship. Once participants understand the three types of trust, they use an assessment to evaluate their level of trust for each of their team members. The results of this assessment guide leaders to develop deeper trust with each individual on their team.

Feature 3: Pathways Enable Leaders to Grow Together.

One of the most overlooked aspects of developing leaders is the loneliness that leaders experience. Loneliness stunts the growth of leaders and prevents them from being able to talk through their biggest challenges.

Leadership development should never be a solitary journey. Pathways provide opportunities for leaders to grow collectively, fostering a supportive and collaborative environment.

This communal approach has multiple benefits. Leaders will:

  • Encourage each other
  • Challenge each other
  • Hold each other accountable
  • Support each other
  • Strengthen each other
  • Coach each other

Such a network is vital in combating the isolation often felt in leadership positions. Discover more about fostering collaborative leadership development here.

Feature 4: Pathways Take Place Over Sustained Time

Leadership development is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Unlike programs that are short-lived, pathways unfold over weeks, months, or years.

According to Gallup’s State of Management Report, “18% of those currently in management roles demonstrate a high level of talent for managing others, while another 20% show a basic talent for it.”

In other words, only 38% of those in management have natural talent to lead others. In reality, all leaders – even the natural ones – require time and practice to lead others well. Pathways help all leaders develop their skills through sustained repetition.

At AdVance Leadership, our Unleashed Leadership pathway takes place over 6-12 months. Here’s what it looks like:

  • A client might tell us that they want to help their leaders grow in Clarity and Capacity.
  • Before we meet, we would assess all the leaders on those two traits using our proprietary 7C’s assessment.
  • Over the course of two in-person training days, we would train all the leaders in Clarity and Capacity.
  • For the next 6 months, we would meet virtually each month with the leaders. Every month, they would receive an assignment that would strengthen and reinforce their Clarity and Capacity.
  • In those virtual meetings, leaders would share their successes and get help from each other with their challenges, encouraging and coaching each other.
  • At the conclusion of the six months, leaders would take the 7C’s Assessment again to gauge progress.

In your journey to develop leaders, remember that effective leadership is not about sporadic programs but about creating continuous pathways. These pathways need to be practical, focus on specific traits, foster community, and extend over time.

1 Action

As this year draws to a close, it’s time for your company to create next year’s leadership development plan. Determine to invest in pathways, not programs.


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.”
  3. Email Garland to train your company’s leaders. We will equip them with 7 traits that solve 95% of their leadership challenges.
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