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8 Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing a Leadership Development Program

By: Glenn Marczewski

Eight Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing a Leadership Development Program


#1:  Multiple solutions for multiple audiences


This is a common story we hear. We ask the question, “What have you done to support your leaders up to this point?” The answer might sound something like this: “Well, we send our front line supervisors to a supervisor series that is hosted by our local college; for our managers, we host a series of lunch ‘n learn sessions that we’ve put together internally; and we work with a consultant from California to support our senior team.”


Sound familiar?  Here is the problem! The likelihood for reinforcement and refreshing of skills learned is very slim. The toolboxes do not match. When a supervisor goes to his or her manager for support with an employee situation, the supervisor brings his leadership toolbox, and his manager coaches him from the manager’s toolbox. This does not lead to application and retention of skills learned. Tools lie idle and are eventually forgotten.


#2: Leaders decide for themselves


In some organizations, each leader is given a budget for development ($1,000 is a common number) and the leaders themselves select what will meet their preferences. We understand that personal preferences are important and worthy of being acknowledged. Yet, when we consider #1 and #2 in combination, the outcome of both of these situations is a lack of common language, common skill and common approach. Organizations are, in effect, developing a collection of trained leaders rather than a leadership culture.


#3:  Flavor of the month


Let’s go back to the question, “What have you done to support your leaders?” The answer? “Let’s see.  A few years ago, we brought in….wait, what was the name of that group? And then, last year we worked with__________….”


In reality, culture change takes years. Whether we’re changing the way we work together to build products or how we lead people, culture change takes time. Over the course of time, the foundational principles, the skills, the language and the infrastructure for change need to remain consistent. A stop-start approach does not create sustainable change.


#4:  Transactional or event-based approach


You’ve all experienced this. You send your leaders to a workshop, they come back to work, put their books on the shelf and get back to work. Adults typically retain only about 10 to 22 percent of what they hear in workshop lectures. Without a system to support learning, upwards of 90 percent is never applied and certainly not retained.


#5:  Senior leaders do not participate


This is common. Senior leaders are very busy, and commonly this group will grant permission for the organization to invest money in leadership development. They, however, will not participate.


One of the most common fallouts we see from this decision in the short term is a common plea among leaders: “Why are our senior leaders not participating? They need this as much as the rest of us.”


#6:  The leader of the leader does not have a role


A couple of things are at play here. Leaders who are involved in a development process of some kind will benefit measurably by having a higher-level leader who talks with them about what they’re learning about leadership and what they’re learning about themselves. If the ‘bosses’ are not reaching out to their direct reports to talk about their experiences and their growth, there remains untapped potential to strengthen retention and application. Also, when leaders feel their own bosses are apathetic about the process, it is easy for them to become apathetic, as well.


#7:  Training is measured in the moment


Is the facilitator engaging, interesting and providing valuable content? Was the method quick? Sustainable behavior change over time is what needs to be measured...not just the experience in the moment, during the training itself.


#8:  ‘Fast’ is viewed as good


Recently, there has been an increased focus on fast. How can we train people fast and get them back to work? Fast isn’t effective if the outcome also includes the following:

  • The leader’s leader does not know what he or she has learned.
  • The organization is not gradually developing a common language, skill and approach – a leadership culture.
  • Coaching conversations are not taking place to reinforce what has been learned.
  • The leader who has learned something new will forget 90% of what they’ve learned.
  • What has been learned will not be applied.

So, how do you choose a leadership training program, system and provider?


Below is a checklist for what to look for when selecting a leadership development resource for your organization.


1.  Provides support and development opportunity beyond a single, transactional event


Sustainability comes from steady progress over time. Paced learning has been proven to increase retention. Without retention, application of skills will not take place.


2.  Supports skill learning with a coaching component


1:1 and group coaching allows training attendees to get targeted advice and accountability for applying their training in their day-to-day work situations.


3.  Supports learning with a variety of reinforcements


Does the training include tools to help the participant reference and practice what they learned long after the training has ended?


Are there supplemental learning tools like an app, videos, e-Learning or workbooks?


4.  Equips leaders with a process for ongoing employee coaching


One of the challenges of managing people is maintaining a consistent practice of coaching not just for when things go wrong, but for the growth of the employee as well.


5.  Supports your business initiatives and metrics


This is especially important to consider when choosing an off-the-shelf training solution.


6.  Offer skills and tools that are applicable on the job


Team-building exercises can help build rapport among teams, yet don’t translate into practical leadership skills. Look for training that focuses on pragmatic skills that can be applied on the job, such as how to handle conflict in the workplace.


7.  Supports leaders across multiple locations with remote-learning options and technologies


Consider whether there are options for absent participants to make-up any training they might miss.


8.  Equips all leaders at all levels with common language, skill and approach.


This supports building a leadership culture versus a collection of trained leaders. It is important for leaders to be coached from a common toolbox, or the tools sit idle.


At Living As A Leader, we have been developing leaders for almost 20 years using a comprehensive approach that encompasses all of the elements identified above …all delivered in a cyclical fashion to heighten retention and application of new leadership skills.


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