Leadership training has changed little in the last 20 years. If you search for leadership training programs at the web sites of the world’s leading business schools you will see approaches that are very similar to the leadership programs offered in the 70s and 80s.
However, the practice of leadership has changed hugely. We operate in multiple locations, across timezones, with highly diverse groups of employees and in much more complex and fast moving organizations.
This gap between the new reality of our environment and the old-fashioned skills we teach on our leadership training programs not only means that a lot of leadership training is a poor investment, it may even make things worse by promoting out of date solutions to today’s real leadership challenges.
After 16 years training leaders of ever more complex teams in over 300 of the world’s leading companies in 40 countries and delivering over 100,000 participant days of training we have reached some startling conclusions with major implications for leadership training and development.
Successful companies grow, and as they grow, they become more complex and it takes more time and effort to get things done. Eventually complexity undermines what made the company successful in the first place; the old, entrepreneurial spirit breaks down, bureaucracy increases and progress slows.
Three key leadership training myths are getting in the way of us developing the leadership skills and leadership training programs we need in this new more complex leadership environment.
- “It’s all about teamwork” – Even great companies are struggling with an epidemic of cooperation – Managers spend 20% of their time in unnecessary meetings. Everyone feels the need to be involved in everything and teams are the answer. Team working is no longer a technique but a corporate value. Yet teams often do not work and are expensive and difficult to run. But still our leadership training tends to assume that teamwork is the answer to any problem.
- “Communication is the answer” – Lack of communication is a problem of the past – the challenge now is how to disconnect from the mass of trivia and see the few really important messages. The average FTSE Company pays its people to write, send, read and delete over 240,000,000 pointless emails per year. Yet still we leave our old-fashioned leadership training programs with the assumption that more communication will make things better.
- “We need to be in control” – Decentralized control and information in manufacturing have given us a quality revolution over the last 15 years. Management control in other areas however, has become more centralized and this is causing a damaging cycle of micromanagement and low expectations of people at work. Yet still our leadership training programs promote unrealistic expectations of leaders who know all the answers and over-manage their people.
Most leadership training programs still carry these inaccurate assumptions from a much simpler leadership past. Leaders are working harder and harder to apply out of date skills to more complex, multi-site, virtual, cross-cultural and matrixed organizations. The answer is not working harder with the old skills but implementing faster and simpler ways of working.
- Find out more about our book on these themes “Speed Lead – faster, simpler ways to manage people, projects and teams in complex companies”.
- Our Speed Lead leadership training offers some challenging but practical alternatives in all of these areas.
Updated May 2013 to remove links to non-existent pages.