Training Industry


  • Why Are Leaders Failing?

Mark’s company’s stock price had fallen 65 percent in six months. As the president of their largest division, he knew that turning things around would be hard—but he felt up to the challenge.

So, what was the problem?

Everyone in the organization hated him. This wasn’t a mild dislike—it was pure abhorrence. Mark was as smart as they come, but as long as he created a horrible environment for his team, the “trail of dead bodies” he was leaving was untenable.

How could he have risen so far in his organization, but had no idea about the impact of his behavior?  How could Mark not know he was failing?

Mark’s problems aren’t uncommon.

A recent Center for Creative Leadership study found that 50 percent of managers are ineffective. This news comes as a rough blow for training leaders who might be thinking, “If we’re investing so much in leadership development, what on earth is going on? How could half our leaders be failing?”

At the most basic level, leaders who succeed are proficient in two behaviors.

In the 1940s, Ohio State University researchers examined the behavior of International Harvester foremen. Effective leaders showed consideration by treating employees like human beings and initiated structure by driving performance.

These two independent behaviors—let’s re-name them people and results—feel like a trade-off for most leaders (making people happy and driving them to perform). And, if we view these behaviors as falling on a continuum, most leaders feel tension, preferring one behavior to the other—so they fall somewhere between “cool parent” (who places morale above all) and “trail of dead bodies” creator (who achieves results at all costs—like Mark).

This tension is what causes otherwise capable, bright managers to fall short—they don’t know how to create happy people and drive business results.

Training leaders should therefore, focus on helping their people become bankable leaders —that is, they must learn to do both. Bankable leaders deliver guaranteed prosperity to their company in the form of achievement, happiness, health and wealth for all involved.

Two Assumptions That Are Limiting Your Leaders

Do you want your leaders to be more bankable? This process must start by examining your beliefs and assumptions about leadership development. Executives and training leaders are often guilty of two faulty assumptions about leadership—and these beliefs prevent leaders from succeeding.

Even Though Everyone Can Improve, Great Leaders are Born

As any baseball player would tell you, practice is what makes them great—no one is born with the skills to hit a 95MPH fastball.

And though scientists spent most of the 19th century convinced that good leadership was inborn and fixed, the research of the early 20th century told a different story—that leadership is largely made. A recent study by Richard Arvey at Singapore’s NUS Business School revealed that up to 70 percent of leadership is learned. But business leaders are divided. The Center for Creative Leadership reports that 20 percent of C-level executives believe that leadership is born, and more than 28 percent believe it’s equally born and made. But, the evidence shows otherwise.

Why is this belief limiting? Struggling leaders think, “Leadership is so easy for everyone else—why is it so hard for me? I must not be a good leader.” The truth is that leadership is difficult for almost everyone. The assumption that it’s inborn stifles the possibilities that lie within every leader in your organization. And as your company’s human development experts, you must give them hope and emphasize that anyone can learn to be a more effective leader.

Development Planning Should Be a Yearly Endeavor

The leadership development process organizations use usually begins with yearly development planning, where leaders are encouraged—or required—to set several development goals. Then they revisit them a year later, only to feel frustrated and perplexed about why they haven’t improved. 

Most leaders are guilty of delusional development—the futile hope that they’ll get better at something based on sheer willpower. When in fact, their development planning lacks specificity in many cases and they take on too many goals at a time. Learning one new skill is hard enough.

Instead, what if the leadership development planning process were an ongoing activity, where leaders picked one specific behavior at a time (such as showing compassion by focusing completely on employees in conversations) and relentlessly practiced every day?

As famous author and speaker Malcolm Gladwell said, it takes 10,000 hours to become great at something—like hitting the 95MPH fastball. And if training functions could lead the way by creating processes to support this practice, they’d see real development.

The daily commitment required to become a better leader isn’t sexy, but it’s the only thing that will make leaders more bankable. In Mark’s case, he was able to turn things around. He identified a few high-impact behaviors he needed to change, focused on one at a time, and practiced religiously. He’s seen an improvement in his business, and his team is shocked and delighted by the now-bankable man they call, “the new Mark.”

Dr. Tasha Eurich is an organizational psychologist, speaker and author of “Bankable Leadership: Happy People, Bottom Line Results and the Power to Deliver Both”. Her life’s work is to help organizations succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders and teams. Her eleven-plus year career in the Fortune 500 world has spanned roles as an external consultant and a direct report to both CEOs and human resources executives. She also serves on the faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership.

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