Most leadership development is stuck in the 1950s and does not work.

Leadership is the skill CEOs say their companies need the most. Why is leadership development stuck in the 1950s?

US companies spend $50 billion a year on leadership development but the rate of failed managers and leaders remains stuck at almost 50%. And the cost of that 50% is enormous – lost productivity and inability to pursue strategic goals costs US companies more than $360 billion a year, a staggering 2% of GDP.

Leadership development has been around for more than 70 years, and with $50 billion spent and mostly wasted annually, it’s worth asking – is it even possible to train leaders and managers to be more effective? 

The answer is – no. Well yes. Ok, it depends. 

Leadership Training or Leadership Development?

When we ask if leadership can be “taught”, we think of training – programs designed to help people learn information about leadership. Training is usually done in classrooms or workshops, augmented with handouts, books and online materials, and it’s everywhere – workshop programs compose nearly 70% of leadership development.


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The problem is that workshops don’t work well – search for “does leadership development work” on Google to see thousands of reasons why. But the main reason is that changing behavior is hard, and simply teaching people what good leaders look like isn’t enough to help them become better leaders. Think about what you know about eating healthy or exercising – is that knowledge enough to get you off the couch? For most people the answer is no – learning or training alone is almost never enough to get people to change the way they act. It takes more – a lot more (see what more is needed at The LASER Framework for Real Behavior Change).


Bad managers CAN get better.

Read Get bad managers back on path


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The Path Forward

So does that mean leadership development is hopeless?

No. There are leadership programs that work, and work very well – we call them comprehensive – or “full stack” – programs. These programs focus on what people need to change their behavior and provides the support and motivation they need at every step. Coaching, for example, is a common part of full stack leadership programs and research shows that, unlike workshops, it’s very effective at improving leaders’ performance. Effective programs support leaders with accountability, emotional support, frequent feedback and ongoing activities to practice and reinforce improved leadership approaches.

That’s the bad news and the good – leadership or management training by itself will rarely work, but full stack leader development does. 

To read more about digital coaching and full-stack leadership development, try What Is Digital Coaching Anyway?


Careerwave’s full-stack leadership development is effective and affordable enough to provide a coach to every manager. Whether you need to develop 1 leader or 100, and whether you need a full program or just an addition to your current program, we can build a solution for you. To learn more, contact us at, or visit

Learn More About Transforming Your Leaders With Careerwave Coaching

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