Why Leadership Development Has Failed The World!

Myself, Prof Theo Veldsman of UJ and Rich Simmonds debated with a very exclusive audience that included CEO’s, HR Executives and Leadership Practitioners at Leaderex why leadership development has failed the world, and what should be done about it. We also discussed this on CliffCentral.com, listen here

Obviously not all development programmes fail or have failed, but collectively we have to be brave enough to admit that it just isn’t cutting it. Some reasons why:

  1. It has not kept pace with the tremendous changes in our environment and the increased pressures that leaders are expected to absorb.
  2. Most leaders and programs have been caught off guard by the speed & vastness of change – in technology; social change; attitude change; urgent need for transformation; persistent economic pressure to create a competitive and job providing society; stepping back into the global arena; complexity of the South African environment with contrasting aspirations; and much more.
  3. Programmes are unrealistically expected to create behaviour change. No ad hoc programme can change behaviour. It takes time and years, or some dramatic “crises”.
  4. Development is not linked strongly/clearly to movement/improvement after. There is an overall lack of accountability in our society was the view of a CEO in our audience.
  5. It does not prepare a leader sufficiently to balance the necessary yet ever increasing need for compliance against the urgent need for speedy movement.
  6. It does not prepare leaders for pitfalls of increased visibility. We live in a highly connected world, especially with the advent of social media.
  7. Programs and content over emphasises inclusive, engaging, consultative leadership, yet, as mentioned, there is a need like never before for speedy decision making and being tough, doing the difficult things.
  8. Back in the workplace what was taught on course does not apply – lack of real life example (Is theory too far removed from practice?).
  9. Practically there is less space for time away from the job.
  10. The ongoing debate of whether leaders are born or made does not help.
  11. Programs are not teaching sufficiently how to think essence, big picture, simple – complexity management.
  12. CEO’s/MD’s/the top leader don’t always take personal ownership of leadership development in their organisations. They hand it down and then it takes on a complex life of its own; it becomes a tick the box exercise.
  13. We have not/do not start early enough, in primary school – when the young tree can still be bent.
  14. Leadership Development has become too scientific – ex. Assessments and profiling. We are underestimating the simplicity of leadership.
  15. Far too many leaders are attending programs because they have to and not because they have made a personal decision that they want to be leaders.

These are just some of the reasons why leadership development has failed the world. What must change? What must be incorporated into current and future programs in order to ensure better success; to develop leaders that will match the dynamic, unpredictable and integrated world?

  1. Accept that all leaders are born and made. Some abilities are inherent while others are developed. However, both ‘born talent’ and ‘acquired abilities’ need real life pressured situations for it to come alive. Situations must be thrust upon individuals for them to learn to lead. Leaders are born and made.
  2. Where possible invest in individuals that have made a conscious decision to be a leader.
  3. Assist leaders to find their personal identity; who they really are; what their values are; their purpose in life, so that they will transfer energy to those around them. We know that for many years now most worthwhile leadership development programs start with a “get to know yourself” module, so this is not a silver bullet.
  4. Hold leaders accountable for improved performance during/following a development process.
  5. Recognise and reward examples of great leadership behavior and achievement inside your organization.
  6. Focus on the simplicity of leadership, in a world with increasing complexity. Foundation principles must be universal, always applicable, and timeless.
  7. Ensure the program assists leaders to truly transform as individuals, because they lead in a society that is undergoing incredible transformation.
  8. Develop leaders that possess environmental confidence; who believe in the path that the broader country is taking; who believe in the vision of South Africa.
  9. The developmental journey must emphasise the need for leaders to truly get to know their people, so that they can match challenges/situations with people that have relevant capabilities.
  10. Programs should achieve the five C’s according to Prof Veldsman: 1. Character 2. Being connected 3. Caring for people 4. Commitment 5. Competence.
  11. Ensure the journey creates leadership fitness. There must be daily, weekly and monthly leadership thinking, reading, conversations and application. This will go a long way towards influencing behavior, but only over a long period of time, consistently.
  12. The program must humble leaders; deconstruct their ego.
  13. Develop leaders that possess ethics and stand for something.
  14. The top leader of any organization must take personal ownership of any programs inside his/her organization.
  15. Ensure leaders develop realistic expectations of what leadership really is; that it is not romantic; that it is tough yet extremely rewarding.

Over and above these points we have to start realizing as businesses, as schools, as communities that

leadership development starts in the family

family 3

– it is the first school of leadership! We must find a way of supporting and strengthening the family unit.

And, we have to consciously awaken leadership in younger children at school level. At Leadership Platform we believe leadership is every human being’s First Profession; it is that part of us that is good and that will add value to our technical or functional profession. Leadership is visible in young children and as a society we have to recognize and cultivate it. Find ways to recognize and teach leadership at a primary school level.

Do not as the CEO, Minister, School Principal, Director General, President of South Africa expect everyone else to continually develop as leaders while you do nothing visibly about your own leadership fitness. When you engage individuals, teams or audiences ensure conversation about leadership is always on the agenda, proportionate to the leadership responsibilities of the leader/s in front of you. When you are at the top, 90% of your job is leadership, which means you should be the passionate leadership expert in your organization.

Keep it simple. Keep it real. Keep it relevant.

Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on adriaan@leadershipplatform.com for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.




Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022
Email: info@leadershipplatform.com

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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