Analogue. Outdated. Get Leadership Dev Out of L&D?

Most company leadership development programmes are outdated, analogue, and not fit for the digital workplace. They might use fancy LMS systems and incorporate all kinds of excellent experiential learning methods. They might also incorporate some famous academics (apart from company ego, I still don’t understand this) and have a social/peer learning element. But in essence they are the same old programmes that we’re seen for the past two or three decades. And – guess what? – nothing changes.

To be a leader you’ve got to be:

  • Authentic – check
  • Situational – OK
  • Accountable – yep, got that
  • Transparent – well, I’ll try
  • Good at simplifying – yes, well, that’s not going to happen at XCo
  • A good listener – now, I don’t have time for that too
  • Add in whatever L&D decide throw in, despite not understanding it. Let’s go with Design Thinking today.
  • And whatever our company believes is important too…

And when you’re finish the programme, you head back to work and try to be a better leader. But then the work gets in the way, the reward and promotion processes act as disencentives, and only some of it sticks…maybe.

ROI? Well, the industry is worth billions to providers. But I’m not sure about value to those paying for either external solutions or in-house development.

There are two problems I see every day:

First: leadership development does not incorporate actual work. It is side of the desk stuff. The people delivering the programmes usually have no experience in the business. They have an intrerest in leadership and are experts in the theories (or at least folk tales of leadership).

But second and most important: leadership development programmes don’t use the tools a company already has for work. It adds more tools – sometimes really fancy ones. But it doesn’t, for example, show you how to collaborate on a document with your team, to hold open meetings on a video call, or to build your value networks using social media.

It’s the second problem that I see as most critical. The new digital tools that are arriving in the workplace require the behaviours I listed earlier. Then, they can scale the behaviours to a wide audience. I can’t emphasise enough that the tech itself does nothing and changes nothing. It can only scale what we already do.
I truly believe that helping a manager get comfortable and successful using digital tools would be far more effective than most leadership programmes. For example, working with their team using Trello, Asana, Skype, Yammer and O365. Or Google Docs and Hangouts. An ESN is a great social media practice ground for execs. In all situations, collaborative behaviours and skills are best learned by collaborating.

If we want our companies to be innovative, creative, and agile (or the buzzword of the week) this is what needs to happen. This is the new change “management”. It’s also scalable and more able to adapt to circumstance. Get potential leaders using the tools, acting in a way that makes them effective, and delivering measurable value. Or, even better, coach those who are already using the tools effectively because they are your real future leaders.

I’ve been interesting in digital leadership ever since I used to sit in an office, writing “leadership programmes”. I was excited to learn about the research and methods to develop “leaders” but was disappointed to feel that the programmes didn’t bring the value I was expecting. I believe was because they were not tied to the immediate work people needed to actually do or the systems they used to do it.

Writers on the new wave of leadership talk about people adept at human skills and bringing the best out in others – using digital tools to expand their influence (in a positive way) and opening new spaces for others to excel. Current leadership development does nothing of the sort.

This post orignally appear on www.theworksocial.com