[Book Review] What’s Gone Wrong With Developing Leaders
Why Traditional Leadership Training Misses the Mark
There is so much written today on the reasons for lack of employee engagement in the corporate workplace, despite millions spent on leadership training. Author and speaker Mary Hladio decided to tackle the issue in her management book, “Developing Leaders – Why Traditional Leadership Training Misses the Mark.” The overriding theme is that each organization has unique challenges and problems needing solutions, as well as a workforce comprised of individuals with different communication styles, needs and preferences. That leads to the logical assumption that leadership development should focus on understanding human dynamics in a context of continual change.
In a business environment in which change is a constant, packaged generic training programs are ineffective. Many organizations now believe they can buy a canned speech, a non-customized training program, a generic workshop curriculum or other off-the-shelf programs that will “fix” employee-related problems like hiring mistakes, lack of trust in management or low productivity. “The nature of change is organic, not static,” she writes. “Change isn’t a place that you finally reach with all your problems solved. The place where your company’s employees and managers will land, after completing the steps agreed for your own change, isn’t the same spot that others who followed the very same steps would arrive at.”
The first third of the book leads to the conclusion that change management is quite different from change leadership. The former will “view change as a single discrete event,” and the leader’s goal is to minimize the negative impacts of change on employees. Change leaders view change as a never-ending occurrence, and a leader’s role is to help employees “prosper and flourish as a result of change.” To help people flourish requires leaders who can help them overcome resistance by understanding each person’s unique human nature, communicating effectively with people who have different communication styles and learning human dynamics.
Hladio goes on to offer a deeper explanation of how leaders should address change. They include managing the root causes of employee stress, tailoring solutions to specific problems, adjusting initiatives to a diverse, multi-generational workforce and recognizing the role of emotions in employee engagement and disengagement and in the leader’s personal management style. There must be an organizational culture or holistic system supporting change, and one-size-fits-all leadership training will not create such a culture. As Cynthia Kivland and Natalie King wrote for the Executive Learning Exchange, “Only 20 percent of the skills or knowledge taught in leadership training programs is transferred into new leadership habits.” Management expert consultant Henry Mintzberg says it’s only 15 percent of traditional learning.
The FUEL Blueprint
In the final part of the book, Hladio presents a leadership model she calls FUEL (Find, Utilize, Engage, Lead). FUEL is a “blueprint for how to link your company’s development objectives to your corporate strategy as a precursor to creating any leadership development plan.” The focus of the model is determining the specific competencies that employees need assistance with and designing customized success strategies. Hladio includes many excellent real-world examples of companies, like Best Buy, that have learned customized change leadership development works. She also connects what she writes to the ideas of many world-class thought leaders, like John Kotter and Seth Godin, and management consulting firms, including Bersin & Associates and the Center for Creative Leadership.
Mary Hladio gets to the heart of leadership failures. How many senior leaders continually wonder why their investments in staff training aren’t working but are unable to pinpoint precise reasons? There are a few things in the book that seem to run with a play on words, like a section that says only work within a time segment, and not time, can be managed. The description of mapping out work processes to make them simpler and thus less stressful for employees is a blend of the scientific method and the human relations management system theories of management. However, it is the contingency theory of management that offers the foundation for what she writes. Focus on first identifying specific organizational problems and then develop change leaders who can create and implement specific solutions to specific problems.
How Today’s Online Training Hits the Mark
Customized leadership development is much easier to offer today because of technology. Online training videos with current and specific topical matter and live discussion, like those offered by A Better Leader, and customized video, web and eLearning solution developed by Projections, enable organizations to create change leaders for their unique organization.
There are two main takeaways from Maria Hladio’s book. One is that true change leaders recognize they must understand the root causes of why people behave or feel as they do in the workforce before change is possible. Second, organizations must customize their leadership development process so that managers understand how to utilize their knowledge of people to develop successful solutions to problems.
This book is a recommended read for every senior executive who wants to understand why their current leadership training is ineffective and the steps that can be taken to get their leaders on the right path.