If you just want to tick a box, I’ll send you a pen…

For many companies, leadership development appears to be a hot button issue: beyond the actual figures at the foot of the balance sheet, it looks good to say that you have a strong leadership program, you develop future leaders, every employee can become a leader… but how many of these companies are talking a good game and not producing out on the pitch?

Far too many times in a long career as a leadership trainer it’s become apparent that a company just wanted me to do a day-long or week-long session so that they could tick the “leadership development” box and leave it at that. I’ve had to explain that I regard leadership development as a lifelong process: at my leadership camps I have highly successful CEOs, whom one would think have nothing left to learn, come back year after year to refresh their leadership skills and continue developing.

Make no mistake about it, good leadership development isn’t just a nice luxury for a company, it’s absolutely essential. Think about this: in 2016 the global PR firm Edleman’s “Trust Barometer” discovered that one in three employees do not trust their company leaders. How can a company work even close to 100% of its potential when 30% of the workforce doesn’t believe in their leaders? I would contend that most employees want to believe in their leaders, they want to feel part of a positive work environment, so the problem won’t be with the employees, but with badly trained leaders.

Here’s another statistic that may be an eye-opener: a Centre for Creative Leadership study estimated that 65% of companies with an established leadership development program enjoyed improvements in their business results, while only 6% of those without did the same. 86% of businesses with established leadership programs showed the ability to respond rapidly to changes in market and economic conditions; only 52% of those without managed to emulate that.

So, it should be clear that the question is not “should I have a leadership development program?” but “what sort of leadership development program should I have?” Principle based leadership is an idea whose time has come.  As I mentioned above, don’t just think you can have a day’s training and the job’s done, you need to think about progression and lifelong learning. You need to think about developing your leadership team from the inside out, supporting them to be the best they can be so they can in turn offer the best of themselves, which is why I use a whole person model.

Don’t think the you can just do it in the classroom either; respected Canadian academic and management expert Henry Mintzberg has estimated that only 15% of traditional classroom-based leadership training has any lasting effect on a company. That’s why I’ve built my leadership training centers in two of the world’s most beautiful places, the Canadian lakes and the Bavarian Alps; I want people to come to an environment where they can relax, reflect and develop away from the stress of the workplace. That’s not to say that we don’t work hard, many say my courses are the most intense experience they’ve had in their working life, but we do it differently. We play games, we act out roles, we sing songs, we write stories, we coach and are coached..intensely… in these and a thousand other ways we encourage our guests to learn from themselves and each other as well as us. We certainly learn from them!

One of my oft-repeated mantras about leadership is that being a leader isn’t a job title, it’s a choice. People whose ambition is just to have that plaque on their door or the parking space nearest the entrance want the title and nothing else. Real leaders, properly developed, know that leadership has to cascade throughout a company, that the lowest ranked employee may have just as much to contribute as the CEO and that leadership comes in many guises at many levels.

A company which properly appreciates good leadership, which encourages all of its employees to take ownership of their roles and to take the lead when appropriate is not only vastly more likely to become successful but can also be a beautiful environment in which to work. I’ve been lucky enough to see individuals and companies transformed by expert leadership development training and it’s an incredibly exciting and rewarding thing to be a part of. Still, if you just want to tick that box, I’m sure I’ve got a pen somewhere…