A Perfect Example of Leadership Development Baloney

Thanks to the Decem­ber Lead­er­ship Devel­op­ment Car­ni­val at Inflex­ion Point and a great post by Wal­ly Bock, I came across this arti­cle from Chief Learn­ing Offi­cer and this report from the ven­er­a­ble Cen­ter for Cre­ative Lead­er­ship (CCL).

The CCL report, titled “The Lead­er­ship Gap” describes results of a sur­vey giv­en to 2,200 man­agers in 2006 and 2007 regard­ing needs for spe­cif­ic areas of lead­er­ship skill now and over the next five years. The report concludes:

1. Sev­en lead­er­ship skills are con­sis­tent­ly viewed as most impor­tant now and in the future. They are: lead­ing employ­ees, strate­gic plan­ning, inspir­ing com­mit­ment, man­ag­ing change, resource­ful­ness, being a quick learn­er, and doing what­ev­er it takes.”

2. Lead­ers lack the skills they need to be effec­tive today. Of the ‘top five’ needs — inspir­ing com­mit­ment, strate­gic plan­ning, lead­ing peo­ple, resource­ful­ness, and employ­ee devel­op­ment — only resource­ful­ness is con­sid­ered be a ‘top ten’ skill. This is what CCL calls ‘the cur­rent lead­er­ship deficit.’

3. Lead­ers are not ade­quate­ly pre­pared for the future. Today’s lead­er­ship capac­i­ty is insuf­fi­cient to meet future lead­er­ship require­ments. The four most impor­tant future skills — lead­ing peo­ple, strate­gic plan­ning, inspir­ing com­mit­ment, and man­ag­ing change — are among the weak­est com­pe­ten­cies for today’s lead­ers. The lead­er­ship gap, then, appears notably in high-pri­or­i­ty, high-stakes areas. Oth­er areas where there is a sig­nif­i­cant gap between the need­ed and exist­ing skill lev­els are: employ­ee devel­op­ment, bal­anc­ing per­son­al life and work, and decisiveness.

The report also con­cludes that there are sev­er­al areas that, while lead­er­ship strengths, do not require fur­ther attention:

Con­verse­ly, these data show that many lead­er­s’ strengths are not in areas that are most impor­tant for suc­cess. Orga­ni­za­tions report greater bench strength in areas of build­ing and mend­ing rela­tion­ships, com­pas­sion and sen­si­tiv­i­ty, cul­tur­al adapt­abil­i­ty, respect­ing indi­vid­ual dif­fer­ences, com­po­sure, and self-aware­ness. In orga­ni­za­tions where this is the case, suf­fi­cient skill-lev­el has been estab­lished in these areas and fur­ther large-scale efforts to boost these areas are unnec­es­sary. These are mapped in the charts below as ‘over-invest­ments.’

You mean to say lead­er­ship devel­op­ment pro­grams don’t need to focus on these areas, par­tic­u­lar­ly areas that affect diver­si­ty and cre­at­ing inclu­sive work­places where peo­ple are well-treat­ed? Really?

Here’s my view. I think that’s offensive. 

And I think it’s a per­fect exam­ple of lead­er­ship devel­op­ment baloney, where we are sup­posed to trust to the sci­ence of the sur­vey as an absolute in order to pur­chase some­thing, in this case, more sur­veys for your own orga­ni­za­tion. I mean this data from the report might be an inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion starter, but in any area that involves peo­ple and their per­cep­tions, there’s no “truth” to be found. This is about per­cep­tions, beliefs and bias­es, not some sort of objec­tive real­i­ty, as I men­tioned in my last post. And cer­tain­ly per­cep­tions do need to be addressed, but good grief, the find­ings here are sim­plis­tic and remark­ably super­fi­cial. For exam­ple, in describ­ing what is meant by this dimen­sion, “Lead­ing Peo­ple,” we find:

Lead­ing peo­ple. Lead­ers who have good skills in direct­ing and moti­vat­ing peo­ple know how to inter­act with staff in ways that moti­vate them. They del­e­gate to employ­ees effec­tive­ly, broad­en employ­ee oppor­tu­ni­ties, act with fair­ness toward direct reports, and hire tal­ent­ed peo­ple for their teams. To devel­op this skill in your orga­ni­za­tion you will want to:
• Com­mu­ni­cate the spe­cif­ic behav­iors and skills that are relat­ed to man­ag­ing oth­ers well. Be sure man­agers know them and under­stand them in con­text of their roles.
• Assess lead­ers on the key behav­iors and skills. Use con­sis­tent assess­ment prac­tices; 360-degree lead­er­ship devel­op­ment assess­ment tools are often most detailed and helpful.
• Cre­ate train­ing pro­grams and devel­op­men­tal assign­ments. Arrange for train­ing and facil­i­ta­tion by rep­utable lead­er­ship devel­op­ment organizations.
• Devel­op inter­nal groups to share expe­ri­ences. Use forums and dis­cus­sion groups to share lessons learned and best prac­tices relat­ed to han­dling teams.
• Fos­ter a feed­back-rich envi­ron­ment. Devel­op men­tor­ing pro­grams and train man­age­ment in ways to give feed­back effectively.

Yup, that first line is cer­tain­ly true: “Lead­ers who have good skills in direct­ing and moti­vat­ing peo­ple know how to inter­act with staff in ways that moti­vate them.” Can’t argue with that but it begs the ques­tion of whether any­one proof­read the report before it went out. And the rest of it? How is this dif­fer­ent from oth­er forms of man­age­ment train­ing going back many, many years? Is there any­thing new here? If so, what?


All of this looks to me like such a self-serv­ing mar­ket­ing piece rather than any­thing remote­ly mean­ing­ful in terms of actu­al sur­vey research. Yes, I per­son­al­ly do use sur­veys (e.g. my Team Trust Sur­vey) and, yes, I even give my sur­vey tool away free in part as a form of mar­ket­ing, but what I would­n’t do is tell you it’s a sur­vey of real­i­ty rather than a sur­vey of per­cep­tions. What wor­ries me about this stuff is that it active­ly rein­forces belief sets that may actu­al­ly under­mine the true work that needs to be done — espe­cial­ly the tough lead­er­ship devel­op­ment work that has a lot to do with rela­tion­ships, sen­si­tiv­i­ty, respect­ing dif­fer­ences, and yes, self-aware­ness. If CCL had con­clud­ed some­thing, any­thing, about the per­cep­tions they report, I’d have been hap­pi­er. What do these per­cep­tions mean after all? What are the real needs behind them? But they appar­ent­ly did­n’t take on that eval­u­a­tion. What it appears they are doing is using them to bol­ster their busi­ness lines.

Here’s anoth­er exam­ple from the report, this one hav­ing to do with what an orga­ni­za­tion can do to help lead­ers “inspire commitment.”

Inspir­ing com­mit­ment. Man­agers who rec­og­nize and reward employ­ees’ achieve­ments are able to inspire com­mit­ment from their sub­or­di­nates. Such man­agers pub­licly praise oth­ers for their per­for­mance, under­stand what moti­vates oth­er peo­ple to per­form at their best, and pro­vide tan­gi­ble rewards for sig­nif­i­cant orga­ni­za­tion­al achieve­ments. Orga­ni­za­tions can strength­en this skill by:
• Clar­i­fy­ing the vision. Describe how it con­nects with employ­ees’ roles and talk about the respon­si­bil­i­ty each per­son has for real­iz­ing the organization’s vision.
• Pass­ing it on. Help man­agers effec­tive­ly and con­sis­tent­ly com­mu­ni­cate a clear vision and direction.
• Rais­ing stan­dards. Encour­age man­agers to expect high stan­dards of per­for­mance and inter­per­son­al competence.
• Rein­forc­ing suc­cess. Devel­op recog­ni­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties for man­agers to pub­licly acknowl­edge their employees.

If you’ve fol­lowed me this far, dear read­er, search your own heart. Do apply­ing these very old school con­ser­v­a­tive ideas actu­al­ly inspire com­mit­ment? I don’t mean to say they are total­ly bad ideas, but do they real­ly do the job? Do they fos­ter authen­tic engage­ment? Or are they implic­it­ly a defense of man­agers and a crit­i­cism of employ­ees? Think about it. Each of these sug­ges­tions is about some­thing done exter­nal­ly, not some­thing with­in the lead­er’s own being, pas­sion, pur­pos­es or pres­ence at all. This seems more about lay­er­ing on shal­low tech­niques to fix those uncom­mit­ted employ­ees than about being hon­est, real, or gen­uine — not to men­tion per­son­al­ly com­mit­ted — as a means to inspire oth­ers. Are these tech­niques what CCL calls “skills”?

Over the years I have heard many good things about the Cen­ter for Cre­ative Lead­er­ship. This mate­r­i­al seems far out­side that norm and seems to come with less under­stand­ing of how orga­ni­za­tion­al beliefs oper­ate, what they mean, and their con­nec­tion to the core of what lead­er­ship is. 

Am I being wacky here or have I called out some non­sense for what it is?

Technorati Tags: . Link to blog posting. Link to Oestreich Associates website.


  • Dick Richards wrote:

    WELL! Let’s see. I’ve coached maybe a hun­dred lead­ers, con­sult­ed to a hand­ful of lengthy whole sys­tem change projects, designed and led lead­er­ship train­ing, and even wrote a book about lead­er­ship based on all of that expe­ri­ence plus in-depth inter­views with twen­ty well rec­og­nized lead­ers. The book was pub­lished by the Amer­i­can Man­age­ment Asso­ci­a­tion. I also con­sult­ed briefly with CCL

    So…having estab­lished at least a mod­icum of cred­i­bil­i­ty on the subject…your analy­sis and com­ments, Dan, are right on tar­get and not in the least bit “wacky.” It appears that CCL has fall­en into the too-com­mon trap of view­ing lead­er­ship as a mere skill set.

  • Vincenza wrote:

    Right on, Dan! This is one of those things I would have read blind­ly and just moved on. I so love the way you make us stop and think about what we’re read­ing and what it MEANS. After all, mean­ing-mak­ing is a key lead­er­ship skill, isn’t it? 🙂

    I’m about to take on a new role — Train­ing and Devel­op­ment Man­ag­er for The Culi­nary Insti­tute of Amer­i­ca. Big change, big move. My focus will be — you guessed it — lead­er­ship devel­op­ment. I hope I can find the same kind of wis­dom you show as I’m try­ing to estab­lish a lead­er­ship path for my new organization.

    Thanks, and Hap­py New Year!

  • Vin­cen­za and Dick

    Thank you both for your very sup­port­ive com­ments. Vin­cen­za, your focus on mean­ing-mak­ing is at the heart of my objec­tion to the CCL report. Dick, thanks for remind­ing us all how easy it is to fall into the trap.…Happy New Year to both of you.

  • Thanks for the shout-out, Dan, on my arti­cle about the same “study” you so nice­ly dissected.

  • Thanks to you, Wal­ly. Would­n’t have found it with­out you!

  • I think leader is the most impor­tant per­son in every busi­ness and with­out com­mu­ni­ca­tion in busi­ness there is no lead­er­ship. It not only takes time to learn lead­er­ship skills but also to devel­op those skills. You not only need to have good ver­bal skills, but also lis­ten­ing and visu­al skills. These all make for a great leader.

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