I have been training leaders and managers for the last 20 years and amazed at how leadership has changed in that time. Firstly, there weren’t leaders, there were managers, individuals who were, more often than not, promoted because of their technical skills rather than their people skills. Managers went on training courses because of the lack of their people skills! I was attempting to train people on how to change their behaviour, to become ‘better people managers’, to demonstrate behaviours that were never prioritised when selected for the role.

There was often no clear alignment with the expectations on the managers and the needs/objectives of the business, it was ‘managers aren’t performing, let’s throw training at the problem’ this is more widely known as the ‘sticking plaster’ approach! But too many leadership development programs are poorly designed and even less are well executed, leaving people with a temporary “high” and some good ideas that are impossible to implement on the job. At worst, programs historically have been a gigantic waste of everyone’s time and money. Rarely were the fundamental issues underlying performance addressed or the reasons for behaviours of managers. How can a generic 4-day management training course address key issues relating to performance of people that can be deep-rooted? People don’t change their mindsets or behaviour just because someone tells them to. I know I am good but I’m not a miracle-worker!

Telling is not as effective in situations requiring significant behaviour change because it is based on a narrow, cognitive view of human systems.  It fails to incorporate values, attitudes, and feelings. While people may understand why they should change, they are often not willing to make the painful changes that are necessary.  When the target of change begins to resist, the change agent often becomes frustrated and turns to an even more directive strategy”. (Quinn, Building the Bridge as you Walk on It).

Why do we need to move on when it comes to Leadership development? Today’s concepts of what makes a great leader are rather different to those I first experienced all those years ago. What has brought about the change? There has been a realistion that people are at the core of a business and that to get the best from them requires more than managing the function, we need a person-centred approach and the term leadership became more prevalent. There was a change in thinking about what a leader’s role is and who you need to be to lead.

Expectations of staff at work began to change, we wanted to be motivated, engaged, share values with the organisation we work for, it wasn’t ‘just a job’ it became more about achieving potential, growth, having all our needs met. Leaders need to be aware of this and adapt their style accordingly. To do this requires a modicum of self-awareness, humility, authenticity, empathy, emotional intelligence, these were seen as the ‘pink and fluffy’ end of the development needs and often uncomfortable for a lot of managers that I met, (that was HR’s responsibility!)

We now live in a constantly changing world and organisations have to lead people through these changes and this required leaders that can support staff to do this, this requires engagement, trust, communication, accountability otherwise people won’t overcome their resistance to change and accept change. Therefore, we need leaders who can connect with people, someone who is trusted and respected, someone who is authentic, and we can relate to, a real person, that ‘has our backs’ in times of difficulty and belongs to our tribe. Leaders can’t be ego-driven, its not about them, the needs of the team, the organisation and individuals are more important, hence the need to be humble and authentic, engage with others, to be driven by something bigger – a sense of purpose greater than their own ego.

In the 21st century, we need to re-think development initiatives and expectations on our leaders we need to design our programs to focus on competencies that matter, such as self-awareness, self-management, empathy, emotional intelligence. When it comes to leadership development, we need to make dramatic changes in how we design programs and bring leaders together to learn and develop relationships with one another. This starts with reframing the objectives of leadership development.

What Do We Need to be Doing Differently to Develop Leaders?

Identify the Skills and Behaviours Required of ‘Good Leaders’

What do ‘good leaders’ look like in your organisation? What are the skills, behaviours, attitudes required? Who are your role models? Organisations need to identify what good leaders look like to then ascertain whether their existing leaders are demonstrating these characteristics. Only then can a development programme be designed and implemented. Questions to ask: Where are your Leaders now? Where do you want them to be, what do you want them to be doing, who do you want them to be? And what needs to happen to get from A to B?

Have Clearly Defined Objectives

It is impossible to evaluate the outcomes of any development programme and on changed behaviour if there is not agreement on the objectives and what behaviour needs to be changed! Identify who needs to be involved in setting and agreeing these objectives.

Business Exposure

Leaders need to understand the big picture, to appreciate how the business works, where it is going, its vision, culture and purpose and their role in shaping and delivering this. This is essential for any leaders who may one day, make the decisions that shape the organisation. Provide your leaders with an opportunity to work on cross-functional projects where they are required to work with different stakeholders and gain a greater awareness of different sides of the business. This helps leaders move out of a ‘silo-mentality’ and work collaboratively across the organisation.

Giving your leaders an opportunity to experience real business situations will challenge them as they attempt to solve or overcome the issues. Giving them challenging projects will reveal their capabilities and capacities, as well as develop their critical thinking skills and creativity when faced with unfamiliar and difficult tasks as they learn new skills. It will also improve their confidence, and this goes a long way to enhancing their commitment to the organisation.

Mentoring and Coaching

Coaching and mentoring are development techniques based on the use of one-to-one discussions to enhance an individual’s skills, knowledge or work performance to achieve their full potential.

According to a survey conducted by CIPD, Coaching is seen as one of the most effective approaches in developing leaders, as are ’in house development programmes’ – which usually include a large coaching element.

“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance” (Whitmore et al. 1996. Coaching as part of Leadership development programmes can focus on specific areas that individual leaders are struggling with, such as people management, relationships with others, confidence, managing a team, EQ;  it can also provide valuable support for potential leaders who are looking to step-up, as well as existing leaders who are looking to progress in their leadership role.


Without regular constructive feedback, your leadership development programme can fail before it starts. Let your leaders know how they are performing. They will be eager to find out if they are doing a good job and if there are any areas for improvement or further development. Feedback will help you to identify early on if there are any issues or if you need to make any changes to the pace or structure of their development.

Feedback from others, engages leaders in order to create an environment that gains their ownership and commitment to work individually and together to improve performance with the added benefit of demonstrating ‘measurable’ results. A 360-degree appraisal will allow individuals an opportunity to see how others see them in comparison to how they see themselves.  It will create the avenue for healthy introspection and better self-awareness.

Psychometric/Self-Assessment tools show how personal development is the critical first step to high performance. The profiles, completed individually, show how they can best contribute to their success and how they are likely to lead, manage and link with others who may have different perspectives on the world of work.

Develop an Ongoing Follow-up Process and Evaluate

Ongoing follow-up should be very efficient and focused, have the changes been sustained, have they been bedded-in?  Conduct evaluations with key stakeholders asking them whether the person has become more or less effective in the areas targeted for improvement. Have the objectives been met? What are the leaders now doing differently which has a positive impact on themselves, their team and the organisation?