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Traditional Leadership Development: The 4 flaws

By Laurence Clarke

In terms of ‘Leadership Development’, there is a profusion of consultants and strategies out there. Every other week, Youtube has “Most Watched” inspirational talks on Leadership Development, posts on LinkedIn about a new Leadership Development book publication with concrete steps promised to work for you and your organisation. Leadership Programmes are then often pre-designed based on this.

Due to this, there are many Leadership Development Programmes with the same fundamental principles: many that are successful across leaders and some that are flawed.

We often hear about the ‘learning decay’ experienced by mangers that have been on traditional Leadership Development programmes. Here, we will explore the four flaws of traditional leadership development.

The 1st Flaw –Context Neutrality

Traditional leadership development programmes tend to pluck executives out of their day-to-day context and provide them with new ways to think about their organisational problems in the hope that they will then apply this learning back in their organisation. It is based on the faulty assumption that individual leaders have the personal agency to single-handedly tackle organisational issues that are systemic, deep-rooted and cultural in nature.

The 2nd Flaw – Time-Lag

Pre-designed leadership development programmes are based on the flawed belief that the programme designers can know in advance the challenges leaders are going to face. Even if this were true for the current organisational reality, in today’s rapidly changing commercial environment, today’s issues are unlikely to be tomorrows. Development needs to keep pace with leadership challenges, but with pre-designed programmes, there’s always a lag.

The 3rd Flaw – The Practice Void

What we now know about neuroscience and what we’ve long known about adult learning, is that in order for a person to assimilate and embed new learning, they have to utilise the learning practically and reflexively many times over before it becomes part of their leadership repertoire. For the learning to be truly embedded it has to be applied in the service of a meaningful task and practiced multiple times. On-the-programme practice just isn’t enough, so the learning isn’t fully embedded and the development rarely gains the traction that the programme investment deserves.

The 4th Flaw – Assumptions of straightforward execution

Development programmes that are focussed on delivering an organisational strategy tend to assume that strategy implementation is a rational, logical process. Given the complexity of organisational life, the reality is that it’s messy, circuitous and subject to on-going revision that happens in the countless micro-decisions that a multitude of people make every day. What drives the direction of these micro-decisions is based not just on a cognitive idea of what the strategy is, but deeply held convictions about what the strategy means. Unless the development focuses on the meaning-making leaders do in implementing strategy, it's focus is too narrow.

At Taylor Clarke, we have the capacity and expertise to design, develop and deliver bespoke management and leadership development programmes which are integrated with an organisation’s business needs and that deliver real benefits to the individuals, teams and organisations involved. We help people to develop the skills they lack, the knowledge they want and the behaviours they need.

If you would like to speak to us about a bespoke Leadership Development Programme for your organisation please contact us on or call 0141 221 1707.


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