Author: Justine Chinoperekweyi, Ph.D.
Interestingly, the world has witnessed an increase in the number of leadership development programs and ‘International Leadership Coaches’. Though most of the glamorized ‘international titles’ are seemingly questionable, this is a welcome development as it reinforces the need to address the leadership challenge that’s evident across different levels of human civilization. In a 2019 Report, TrainingIndustry.com stated that leadership training is a $366 billion global industry. There is no doubt, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic announcement, that most organizations are focused at finding ways to lead sustainable strategic change, facilitate continuous improvement and enhance employee performance. It is an indisputable fact that leadership is central to the success of any organizational development initiatives. In spite of the growth of the leadership development industry, most leadership development programs dismally fail to create desired results. Unfortunately, most of those championing the leadership trainings are yet to accept the failure of their programs to lead meaningful transformation or deliver desired results. Acceptance of the current failings of leadership training is essential in revisiting and revitalizing the training curricula and training methods.
What are some of the reasons for the failure of most leadership trainings to create desired results? Here is my take to this demise:
• Without recognizing that leadership (its teaching, practice and theory) has been in a deep rut for a while now, most trainers work hard to deepen the existing, obsolete paradigms. Though they try to integrate latest leadership and management fads through scanning for most popular theories and books, the training programs are filled with fashionable old leadership phrases and words masquerading as wisdom yet devoid of transformational impact. Probably, this is a case of short-sightedness or lack of passion for transformative leadership. In this case, there is need for ‘motive scrutiny’ on those who assume the leadership development responsibility. John Maxwell was accurate in saying “Everything rises and falls on leadership”. As such, taking leadership development role is quite a heavy responsibility, hence the question: What attracted you to the leadership development industry?, should be answered with depth of philosophical orientation and transformative value that transcends mere instrumentalism and opportunism. Along the same line of thinking, most of the leadership trainers lack sufficient leadership experience and in order to hide their lack of experience (though behind the pinky finger), they delve into old paradigms, encourage the same obsolescence and provide validation for those stuck in the obsolete paradigms. Without downgrading academic leadership programs, some trainers merely rely on classroom concepts and as such transfer academic curricula to professional training halls without any grain of customization or contextualization. As such the training hall sessions are exciting but unable to transform or change anything.
• Most professional leadership development programs demonstrate inaccurate and dangerous lack of understanding of the essence of leadership and the evolutions that has been recorded since the foundational leadership thinking (Leaders are born, not made) by Plato, Lao-Tzu, and Machiavelli. The question, What are people yearning for at Self, Family, Organization, and Societal level?, should be answered with depth of understanding that transcends the mere focus on external results while missing the underlying dynamics supporting sustainable performance. Amateur (undergraduate-type) leadership development programs, in professional practice, therefore exclusively focus at external competencies without addressing a different human condition; the yearning for a connection of the spirit. Transformative leadership training purposefully abandons the heightened fixation with unraveling the mystery of the personality. Those new to leadership training get excited with conversations around personality development in leaders. However, too much focus on personality development leads to ego and personal interests thereby breeding materialism, selfishness, and superficiality (impression management & split personality phenomenon). Unfortunately, leadership trainings rooted in personality development does not allow for the evolution of true greatness. The personality development thinking aligns to the 19th Century Great Man Theory, the Trait Theory (1910-1948), and Behavioral Theory (1950-1970). It’s imperative therefore to facilitate radical shift from personality development to focus more on spiritual development and growth. Leaders and leadership trainings need to recognize that people are yearning for a connection to the spirit, NOT positions, titles, privileges, and artefacts that are used to recognize so-called best leadership practices.
• Though integrity is discussed in most leadership trainings as a fundamental leadership characteristic, it seems the more it’s presented and discussed the more decay we see in actual leadership practices. It seems most leadership trainings shy away from critical reflections on moral intelligence of leaders. In hunter-gatherer tribes, leaders were distinguished by their moral qualities, their judgment, and their superior hunting skills. Most leadership trainings focus at judgment and superior skills due to the labels attached to such traits: power characteristics and superior, and intelligence skills. However, in leadership, especially as one rises up the corporate ladder, behavioral competencies and moral intelligence keeps you at the top of the game.
• Of course some of the leadership training programs are designed not to advance effective leadership but to merely support the lives of the trainers. As such those in such money-making schemes will never endeavor to bring something new or advance new thinking in leadership. Though they publish some articles for magazines, newspapers, and social media platforms they continually soak the readers with old leadership phrases and words, masquerading as wisdom. They are also deeply rooted in quotation-based knowledge without closely interacting with the quotations to bring something new. Without downgrading such, the good thing is that the leadership banner is held on high.
How then can we expand and deepen leadership capacity through our leadership development programs? Firstly, it is important to understand current leadership practices in terms of how they have developed in their historical context. The important leadership aspects of today are definitely shaped by the past, and the past is certainly well understood in the context of today. In designing our leadership development programs, it is important to enhance our philosophical position through reviewing the roots and branches of the leadership concept, and how the historical leadership context led to the leadership manifestations we see today. Here are some of my views to effectively expanding and deepening leadership capacity:
• Ensure leadership training demonstrates clarity of the trainer/coach/mentor’s conceptualization of a Leader and of Leadership. Encourage divergent thinking, and allow participants to interrogate your philosophy as a trainer/coach/mentor. The initial conversations with participants should allow the trainer to recognize participants’ uniqueness and divergent perspectives regarding leadership; but most importantly determine what’s universal in the leader-leadership thinking of all members and then capitalizing on that.
• The training programme should succinctly define the anticipated transformative value and explain detailed assessment tools to hold the participants accountable for the practice of leadership NOT the mere understanding of concepts and theories.
• Emphasize character formation as the gateway to escape the exclusive focus on personality development. The facilitator(s) should strive to integrate the form and essence of leadership.
• Emphasize ethical scrutiny of those in leadership development and the participants. The use of leadership success stories should be encouraged as a way to generate new knowledge while participants get time to review already existing theoretical models or extant literature.
• Apply Action Research, Whole System Thinking, Organization Learning, and Behavioural science knowledge to the delivery of leadership trainings. This includes Action Projects and Social Learning Projects; and Leaders teaching Leaders, in-depth assessment and coaching, and business application of leadership concepts.
Though leadership training is being portrayed as it is easy as sipping a cup of your usual coffee, the reality is that leadership training is as hard as leadership itself. Invest time to review your leadership training, your motive for leadership, and your philosophy about Leaders and Leadership. Engage with us and help us review and revise our leadership conversations in order to ensure we expand and deepen leadership capacity. Let’s make leadership conversations, trainings, publications exciting, but most importantly transformational. Leadership certificates are good but the practice leadership is sweet and gives birth to generational impact.
Your feedback and input is valuable. Share your thoughts in the comment section.
About the Author
Dr. Justine Chinoperekweyi is the Director: Academics & Programs at the Centre for Organization Leadership and Development (COLD). He also serves as President of OLDN and Editor-in-Chief of the Organization Leadership and Development Quarterly (OLDQ). Dr. Justine also works as Academic Director in UAE. He holds numerous other international positions aligned to OD, Leadership and Governance. For more provocative articles visit www.drjustine.net