Managers missing opportunities to develop leaders

Tim Haggerty

I learned years ago of two distinct philosophies about employee development.

The first is the build ’em or bounce ’em philosophy, implying an employee either has it or doesn’t. This approach depends on a hiring process that’s 50-50 at best. In other words, it’s a crap shoot whether you’ll hire the right people. If you don’t, you must quickly assess whether they have it. If not, you’ll need to bounce them. The others? Well, you build them into what you need and want.
If, that is, they’re willing to be rebuilt.

The second philosophy is retain, engage and develop. This approach implies your hiring process is based on attitude more than skill and you have a standardized process that’s easily replicated. 

Both philosophies require recognition and effort.

How many times have we heard the same theme: Talent can make or break a company. So why is it organizations devote so little to leadership development? Study after study shows that organizations investing in leadership development perform better than those that don’t.

John C. Maxwell, Simon Sinek and Sam Walton, all leadership experts in their various roles, professed the key to successful organizations is in how they treat people.

Maxwell said: “A leader who produces other leaders multiplies their influences.”  

Sinek said: “It feels good to help people. So, get out there and feel good.”

Walton said: “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”  

Although developing leaders remains a top priority for companies, only a minority of them report investing in leadership development programs. Why?

The definition of the Latin term ad nauseam is something that’s been done or repeated so often it’s become annoying or tiresome. Has leadership development become annoying or tiresome? If talent can make or break a company, why aren’t companies investing to ensure talent makes their operations?

Clearly, there’s a disconnect between what companies say and what they do. According to the results of a survey conducted by the business management consulting firm Gap International, 85 percent of executives ranked maximizing talent as “very important,” and 83 percent said the same of empowering employees to succeed.
At the same time, only 37 percent of the executives said they believed their employees could become top performers, and less than 50 percent said they’d invest in leadership development this year. Um, what? All that potential going to waste.

Some companies opt not to invest in leadership development because they claim it’s too difficult to measure results or return on investment. Others believe leadership development programs don’t work, so why invest time and money on them? 

How do they know? Surely, they’ve run a cost benefit analysis allowing them to make such a claim. Right?

I doubt it. I doubt the vast majority of companies even bother to consider the true cost implications because, well, those executives simply know better.

That’s why you’ll find such a disconnect between human resources and finance. HR folks, for the most part, hate numbers. Finance folks, for the most part, don’t understand people. They understand numbers.

Finance folks have been trained to get from A to B and B to C. There’s an order to the process, and the numbers must add up.

HR folks realize that depending on the person, you have to go from A to B. B means the Broncos. They’re in Colorado and aren’t the sunsets great? And why can’t everyone enjoy sunsets or sunrises. Oh yeah, we need to get back to C and then to one. And weren’t the Broncos
No. 1 in Super Bowl 50?

So how is it managers know whether or not leadership development does or doesn’t pay dividends?  Perhaps they were taught so in business school. Perhaps they were born with this innate sense the rest of us fail to possess. Perhaps, even, a little hubris is involved?