HOW LEADERS LEARN IS A USA TODAY BESTSELLER! Get your copy today, available wherever books are sold.

What you’re getting wrong about leadership development

Five reasons organizations don’t maximize their leadership capabilities—and what you can do about it

You know leadership development is important—both for yourself and for your team.

But do you know HOW important? 

For starters, companies that invest in leadership development consistently outperform those that don’t. 

One study found that every dollar invested in leadership development yields an average ROI of $7!

Another found that people who received leadership training boosted their overall job performance by 20%—plus an 8% bump in the results of those who worked for them.

But despite the clear correlation between leadership development and stronger performance, the vast majority of companies still have a leadership gap. Get this: only 14% of CEOs have the leadership capabilities they need to execute their strategies.

If you want to get great results now while also strengthening your organization for the future, then you can’t afford to get your leadership development strategy wrong.

In my experience, organizations tend to make the same five mistakes when it comes to developing leaders. In this article, I’ll walk you through each of them and offer practical advice to help you improve. 

Ready to level up your leadership development strategy? Let’s go!

Mistake #1: You’re neglecting it entirely

I hate to break it to you, but leadership development doesn’t happen through osmosis. It’s not enough to hire people with leadership potential and then hope for the best. 

If you don’t have a structured approach to fostering leadership skills, then your organization will never reach its full potential. 

Worse, you’ll find it’s hard to keep your best talent. Research shows that two out of every three workers said they are either somewhat or extremely likely to find another job in the next year because they don’t have enough opportunities to develop skills and advance their career.

Try this: Make it your goal in the next three months to bring structure to the way you develop leaders in your organization. To start, keep it simple! Even basic development plans or book discussions can show your team you’re committed to helping them grow.

Mistake #2: You’re only using a one-size-fits-all approach.

Leaders often make the mistake of assuming that a single leadership development program or strategy will work for everyone in their organization.

In reality, people have diverse learning styles, strengths, and areas for improvement. A one-size-fits-all approach will squash creativity and diversity among your top talent.

Try this: Tailor leadership development programs to your team’s individual needs. Create personalized development plans and tap into assessments like StrengthsFinder or Working Genius to help each team member understand their unique values and opportunities.

Mistake #3: You’re focusing too much on formal training

Organizations often overemphasize formal leadership training programs at the expense of on-the-job learning. But if you want to develop leaders, you have to give them real-world challenges and projects.

If your leadership development strategy consists almost entirely of seminars and courses, then it’s time for a change. 

Formal training has its place, of course: a good football coach would make sure his team studies game film and masters the playbook. But he wouldn’t just focus on that. He would also give his players time to practice in real-world conditions and put it all together on the field.

Try this: Integrate on-the-job experiences and stretch assignments into leadership development plans. Encourage leaders to apply newly acquired skills in real-world situations, so there’s a practical way for them to apply the skills they’re learning. 

Mistake #4: You’re ignoring feedback as a source of training

Constructive feedback is crucial for personal and professional growth, but companies often overlook it as a source of leadership development. 

I get it. Direct feedback can be scary to ask for! That’s what makes it such a valuable source of insight.

Nothing beats what people can learn about their leadership by hearing directly from the people they work with every day.

It can raise leaders’ self-awareness, highlight where they can improve, and open up deeper levels of communication and trust.

Try this: Make sure your organization has the structure it needs so leaders can receive feedback on how they’re doing.

Use surveys, one-on-one discussions, and anonymous channels. Talk to the people they lead, as well as their peers and bosses. And don’t forget to follow up and make improvements based on the feedback you get.

Mistake #5: You’re not leading by example

I say often that leaders cast a shadow. So if you lead other leaders, then those leaders are going to do what you do.

If your people don’t see you actively developing yourself and trying to improve, they won’t make leadership development a priority for themselves either.

Embody the values and behaviors you expect from your team members. When you do, you’ll create a culture where everyone is encouraged to level up their leadership.

Try this: Show your team you’re committed to continuously improving yourself. Tell them what you’re learning. Openly share your own challenges and growth experiences, too. It will have an exponential impact as those you lead follow suit.

You may need to rearrange your priorities in order to create margin and focus, but I promise that investing in your own leadership skills is one of the best ways you can spend your time.

How you develop leaders is a key differentiator for your organization. It can help you execute your strategies, strengthen your bottom line, and create the kind of culture that people want to be a part of. 

I hope this article helps you pinpoint a few areas where you can improve your leadership development strategy and create even more leaders!