stressed-out-850x476[1]American Companies spend $15 billion a year on management and leadership development, but ineffective management continues to plague most organizations – half of American workers say they have a bad manager, nearly 70% report they are not engaged at work, and half or more of all managers aren’t even rated as good.  All at a time when attracting, retaining and developing talented employees is more critical to organizational success than ever.  Leadership development has existed for more than a century – how can results in this area still be so poor?

The first step to answer this question is to clarify what exactly leadership development means.  At its core, leadership development is about behavior change – helping leaders change their behavior toward their work, their team and their company in ways that make the team and company more effective.  The question for leadership programs, then, is what has to happen to get leaders to behave differently?

Changing behavior is a process, not an event, and requires several things to happen at each step in the process.  The process steps with “Self-Awareness”, where the leader understands that she  needs to change behavior, moves to the “Desire” to change, then “Learning” what more effective behavior looks like, then taking “Action” to develop new, more effective skills, and then turning the new behaviors into “Habit” to maintain the new behavior for the long-term.  At each stage, behavior change requires new knowledge, feedback and insight, support and accountability to help the leader keep going and growing.  Simply providing knowledge or organizational support, without addressing the other requirements to change, will not work.  Effective change requires a comprehensive, “full stack” program.

“Full stack” leadership programs support leaders at every step in their behavior change journey, and offer the knowledge, feedback and insight, support and accountability that are critical for success.  Anything less is unlikely to accomplish much.

This model reflects the Transtheoretical Model from the social sciences, which is adopted in the popular ADKAR model of change in organizations.

Behavior change model short


This model provides a template for assessing your current leadership program  Does the program address all the needs at each stage?  Common holes in development programs are described below.

Learning about leadership isn’t enough

Most leadership programs focus on helping the leader gain knowledge about what it means to be a great leader, which is the Action stage.  But knowledge alone isn’t enough.  To get behavior change, the program must help leaders take that knowledge and develop skills, address emotional and motivational challenges from trying something new and different that may be outside the leader’s comfort zone, and must have organizational support.

Efforts that primarily focus on the Action stage also will be ineffective for people in other stages, both people in earlier stages who are not ready for change and people who are in the later stage because the needs at these stages – and specifically the needs for cementing change as ongoing behavior – are very different.  To evaluate your program, ask if it addresses all the needs at each stage.

If your leaders love the leadership program right after but a year later can’t remember what they covered, there probably is a lack of focus outside the Action/Knowledge square.

Skills can’t be developed in the classroom

Gaining knowledge is important for leaders, but even more important is learning how to apply that knowledge in the ambiguous, difficult world of a team. Most leadership programs try to provide practice on applying the new skills through scenarios or role playing and perhaps microlearning scenarios.  While these efforts are better than nothing, they of course do not have the depth and richness of a real issue, and are not relevant to the leader’s life. Leadership programs are especially likely to fail from leaders who don’t know how to turn the knowledge into action.

Everyone’s problem and strengths are unique

Most leaders have challenges, issues or hang-ups that interfere with great leadership.  These include things like not being able to let go of a project, not being sensitive to others’ feelings, being overly pessimistic and so on. These are deeply held beliefs and actions, and behavior change in these areas is particularly difficult – especially because these issues are likely to have strong emotional and psychological impacts. Help leaders overcome these critical blockers requires a great deal of support and accountability.  A leadership program that can transform leaders must provide this kind of support.

Leaders also must find ways to lead naturally – presenting a one-size-fits-all view of leadership often leaves many leaders feeling like they just weren’t cut out for leadership.  This is one reason so many managers are unhappy.  Your program ideally will help each leader find her or his way to lead successfully while feeling authentic.

By looking at the steps of behavior change, you can get a great idea of whether there are areas where your leadership program can be enhanced.