Leadership and management matters, obviously

by | May 17, 2016 | 0 comments

Mindset, behaviour, values and the ability to reflect, change and grow are all valuable characteristics – but are they being nurtured? Kirsty Greany

While it’s easy to slip on the rose-tinted glasses when looking at the challenges of business 20 years ago, it’s fair to say that the landscape has significantly shifted in the last couple of decades. Organisations are becoming more team-based, with flatter and less hierarchical structures that see five generations working together – often dotted across different locations, using technology to connect and work. Staff turnover has increased and is causing headaches, as ‘climbing the ladder’ has largely been replaced by a network of interconnected climbing frames that enable employees to hop across into other roles and organisations more freely.

Throw leaders and managers into the mix and their skills matter more now than ever. According to Deloitte, leaders are being asked to “attract, inspire, and retain great people” while managing larger teams across multiple locations, collaborating with other managers as they do. They not only need to meet fundamental business targets, but must be dynamic problem solvers who know how to roll with (constant) change.

Leadership and management skills really matter – and this includes mindsets, behaviours, values and the ability to reflect, change and grow.

Seek, support and develop leaders right and you’ll have more engaged, productive, and profitable businesses. So it’s no wonder that companies spent nearly $31 billion on leadership programs last year. But is the investment paying off?

Mind the gap

There are two worrying issues that are impossible to ignore if you work in business or in L&D. We’ve labelled these the ‘gap problems’.

The talent-supply gap: According to Deloitte, only 6% of organisations believe their leadership pipeline is ‘very ready’- a staggering capability gap given how important these roles are. This story is backed up by ILM, who states that 93% of UK organisations they spoke with “expressed concern that low levels of management skills are having a direct impact on their business achieving its goals.” BIS also found that “nearly three quarters of organizations in England reported a deficit of management and leadership skills.”

As 700,000 Baby Boomers get set to retire, organisations may not be fronting up to the fact that by 2020, 50% of the workforce will be millennials. These aren’t the only source of future leaders, of course, as many other potentials are already in-house, out there to be recruited or returning to work after having children.

Either way, it seems that despite the high spend on leadership programs, it’s not necessarily a smart spend as it’s not getting through the pipeline to all that matter.

The learning-doing gap: We talked to businesses around the globe about their strategies and learning investments, and discovered many were unhappy with their investments in training for new managers and supervisors. The vast majority we talked with were frustrated by the lack of transfer back to the job after managers had participated in training. They just weren’t seeing a return.

KnowledgeAdvisors (2015) reports that “41% of training on Frontline Leader Development is not applied back on the job.”

Why? First, it seems there’s a lack of measures put in place for management and leadership training. Secondly, it seems that the learning strategy many apply to management and leadership training is often out of sync with the audience’s needs.

What leaders want vs. what they get

Towards Maturity’s In-Focus report, Excellence in Leadership Development, sets out the key differences between leaders’ wants and needs for professional learning and what development they tend to be provided with by L&D teams. Here are some headlines pulled together from the in-depth report:

What leaders find most useful

When and where leaders learn

91% collaborating with others

70% use mobile devices for learning

81% support from manager

40% learn at the point of need

70% using Google or other web search

70% learn on the way to/from work

67% support from a coach/buddy

50% learn in evenings/weekends

61% Classroom courses


52% belonging to networks/communities


37% self-paced elearning


What L&D tends to provide is a whole different story. 68% of L&D teams offer entirely face-to-face training, particularly for senior managers who are least likely to rate that form of learning as useful; and 26% offer fully online. Only 39% offer mobile content, and 30% have no plans to implement social media for leadership development.

It’s no wonder then, that there is a lack of transfer from learning to doing, if the learning doesn’t fit in with everyday lives and habits in the first place and isn’t focused on supporting performance there and then. This isn’t to say there aren’t some great examples of modern, blended, performance-focused leadership development – there are some cited in Towards Maturity’s paper. What can we learn from these?

How leadership solutions can #makeithappen

It’s time to close the gaps and deliver the type of learning solutions that will engage and really help leaders. To really help them, we need to offer easy to find performance support that is genuinely useful and relevant to leaders and managers’ points of need. (And don’t just give them everything tagged ‘leadership’ – but help curate and filter those resources for them). But we also need to help develop those deeper skills and behaviours in ways that fit with leader’s (crazy) lifestyles.

As a baseline, that means moving away from solely ‘event’ based learning – three-day workshops or long online courses – and embracing more resource or micro-learning approaches that provide short challenges and tasks as nuggets that help build skills and insights over time. We would say that providing simulations, interactive videos and meaningful games can make smart use of a leaders’ precious time, and build the competence and confidence leadership roles require – so ROI for L&D too. Couple these with on-the-job assignments, action planning meetings with managers, work shadowing, peer reviews, and/or team 360 feedback tools, and you start to connect the learn and the do in a more streamlined way, and in a way that becomes naturally personalised. Supporting or providing social spaces for informal learning and sharing is key too – the how will depend on who your audience is and how they currently work together.

Measurement comes into play here as you have managers, teams, and peers providing tailored feedback about performance and application. But leadership and management development is often holistic, and ongoing – like a journey rather than a series of interventions. To track what tools, learning, and performance support is used by an individual is a bit of a red-herring – especially if you’re genuinely offering it up to help them in anyway that works for them. There has to be some bigger, business goals to be measured, alongside the individuals’ performance or growth targets, and it might take a little while for the data to come in for these. In the meantime, you can keep gathering data from managers and leaders about what’s working for them – and show trust in that to shape your strategy.

Open it up to all – especially those millennials

Towards Maturity’s report highlights that high performers tend to offer modern, blended solutions that live and breathe the 70:20:10 mix and are open to all levels, including potential leaders.

In terms of those millennials as future leaders – don’t leave it too late before you start developing them. In Deloitte’s report on this generation, Not only is this generation notoriously flighty and ready to up and leave within two years, but 70% of those ready to jump ship cite lack of leadership training as the reason why. Millennials recognise just how important it is to business, and to them.

60% of millennials say their leadership skills just aren’t being developed. So to attract and retain talent, and build leaders of tomorrow, open up those digital, multi-device resources –  simulations, diagnostics, videos, podcasts, tools and more to anyone who’s interested. You’ll probably find that those who have an appetite for your bitesize offerings are your leaders of tomorrow.

For more ideas on how to invest in smart solutions that understand modern learners – find out more about blends that work for leadership, read our guide on closing the learning-doing gap, and see our article, Short doesn’t have to be shallow.

Get your L&D strategy fit for business with the Towards Maturity Benchmark – free until 15 July

If you want to future-proof your L&D strategy and equip your team with the essential skills needed to succeed in the future, the Towards Maturity Benchmark is a great place to start. Confidentially review and compare your strategy, for free. Head to www.towardsmaturity.org/benchmark to get started.


Part of Kineo since its near beginnings and with fifteen years’ experience in learning design, Kirstie is passionate about creative, smart approaches that really get to the heart of the audience and their needs. She has provided consultancy and design to clients for blended, digital and campaign-based learning. 

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