Why Leadership Development Programmes don’t work

Leadership Development Programmes don't work

Why Leadership Development Programmes don’t work

89% of companies rated Leadership development as important and a top priority in the 2016 Deloitte Human capital trends report.  60% of Irish companies invested in Leadership development in 2016 according to Ibec for Irish businesses. The challenge continues with leadership development failing to develop effective leaders or increase performance. It’s time we start looking at Leadership Development as a process, rather than a one off programme.


Having over 20 years’ facilitating workshops. I regularly encounter bright, smart and ambitious managers on leadership development workshops from a range of organisations. We debate new tools, techniques and models on how to become more effective leaders. Using a range of accelerated learning techniques, managers are fully engaged, they say they’ve learnt loads and they make strong commitments to changes and the application of learning back at work. The evaluation sheets are really positive and everyone goes away very satisfied.


The trouble is that managers return back to work and nothing changes. They get stuck in the swamp of day-to-day activities, fall into the same behaviours they had before the workshop and don’t get the increase in performance they expected. After attending the 2015 ATD conference in Las Vegas, Dr Art Kohn an expert on the Forgetting curve said

“We lose up to 70% of what we’ve learnt at a training event if you don’t apply what we’ve learnt within 48 hours”.

Why Leadership Development programmes don’t work.

According to Prof. Robert O Brinkerhoff, who analysed training interventions and reporeds that 80% fail to produce impact because of 3 main factors.

  • The lack of engagement from managers and leaders prior to the training event. Are we getting individual’s managers involved, are we focused on the right learning outcomes?


  • The quality of the learning event matters but not to the extent we think even though that’s where we often focus most of our attention.


  • The follow up is really important – if managers are not supported in applying what they’ve learnt then the business impact is very much reduced.

4 problems with Leadership and Management Development Programmes:

Nick Petrie explains the problem with leadership development programmes is that people who attend them don’t develop.

  1. Too much time is spent delivering information and content and not enough on the hard work of developing the leaders themselves. Most leaders already know what they should be doing, what they lack is the personal development to do it.


  1. When a leader returns to work they are overwhelmed by tasks, it is too hard to convert what was learned in a programme into actions that address real problems.


  1. In addition, most programs fail to engage the learner’s key stakeholders back at work. As a result, leaders not only miss out on the support, advice, and accountability of colleagues, but they also often experience resistance from stakeholders who are surprised and disrupted by changes participants make in their behaviour.


  1. Leadership Development programmes are designed as events rather than as processes over time. Programmes give learners a short-term boost but not the ongoing follow-up to embed new behaviours into new habits.

Training on its own is one of the top reasons why Leadership Development fails. Learning must be blended with a variety of inputs over a set amount of time. More emphasis needs to be placed on personal development, facilitate solution discussions, networking and exposure. It’s important that leaders and managers are involved throughout the whole process before, during and after and include appropriate coaching with a person whose focus is on the personal development needs of the individual.

Click here to view our 4 steps for effective Leadership Development.

Richard McCarthy

Richard joined OMT in 1998 and is head of Consultancy Services following a 14 year international career in project management, financial control and various management development roles. Richard specialises in working with Senior and Middle Management, focusing on critical Organisational Development Initiatives such as Strategy Development & Implementation, Change Management, and the roll-out of extensive Management & Leadership Development Programmes and One to One Executive Coaching. His previous work across Europe and Africa has helped him understand the impact of organisational culture, and change on managers’ ability to deliver successful results. Richard enjoys the challenge he gets from his work, especially working with clients who face difficult strategic choices or need to develop new skills & behaviours. Richard believes the rewards are satisfying when you know you have made a meaningful contribution.

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