Why has leadership development become such a joke?

Maybe because I hear this weekly at companies large and small, across all industries and countries:

“He’s a great leader, but he’s not very good with people.”

Our research informs us that half of today’s leaders never really aspired to be people leaders. While they lead more than 60% of employees at the companies we’ve analyzed, many still don’t want to be people leaders even after they’ve been promoted to management or executive roles. What do these great people want to do? They want to sell products, optimize supply chains, or solve complex engineering problems because they’re GREAT at those things. Unfortunately, while their employers want to pay them more money to continue delivering great results, often times the compensation systems reward those with big budgets and the headcount that makes those budgets big.

These great people have the following dilemma: “Let’s see…I can be an outstanding performer and make good money or I can be a leader of people which I do not want to do and make GREAT money. Hmmm…let me think about this for 5 seconds… I’ll take leader that I don’t want to be for $100,000.”

Unintended consequences? Guess who is most likely to get a “coach” or be sent to leadership development programs? Exactly! The people who don’t really want to develop their skills to be better people leaders even though that’s what their organizations want to help them to be great at. 

Now, this isn’t to say that these people are bad leaders. They are leaders of ideas and solving problems, but not people leaders.

Each week, when I present our research analytics to executives, I’m often asked “Can a leader really become a much better leader?” Our research says, unequivocally yes… if they really want to be better. But many of them don’t. A few weeks ago, after I shared this data with one of the largest global companies in the world, an executive approached me and said, “I lead 15,000 people and I am one of the leaders you were talking about.” His CEO was within earshot and joined our conversation with, “Really? I had no idea.” The exec then said he would be willing to give up the people responsibilities in a heartbeat, but he loved the status and respect that came with his role within the company. The CEO then told him, “I think we can do something about that.” In addition to the fact that I got a new BFF on LinkedIn, this was an awesome step in the right direction that will positively impact this leader, the people he leads, and the business.

We can return leadership development to non-joke status by getting Unintentional Leaders (see chapter 7 from my new book A Great Place to Work For All) into roles where they can excel and put those who sincerely want to improve into experiential Leadership Development programs. The data collected through our survey can pinpoint for you exactly who these people are and insight into how to support their growth and development.

Please join us in San Francisco from February 26-28, 2019 at the Great Place to Work For All Summit where we’ll be sharing this data and providing recommendations from our remarkable customers who have a very small percentage of these remarkable “Unintentional Leaders.” 

All the best,
Michael C. Bush
Great Place to Work

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