Roadblocks to Leadership Development

Recently at a conference I talked with consultants and researchers about an ironic thing about leadership training. The first line managers who chose to participate in sessions or courses designed to improve leadership were overwhelmingly the people who were already the best leaders. The first line managers who were struggling with leadership the most rarely attended. This dynamic seem quite pervasive. People from various countries working across sectors including health care, manufacturing, and government service experience this pattern.

Broadening the appeal of leadership development seems like a necessary goal for the sake of organizational functioning and individual resilience.

The first step along the way is figuring out why people who are struggling with a critical duty—a part of their job that directly affects other people—would hesitate to improve their capabilities. Here are some possibilities:

    • They Just Don’t Know. As discussed in another post, some first line managers are unaware of their shortcomings. They do not attend closely to their impact on others or fail to interpret signs of distress among members of their workgroup as indicating a leadership gap. Their employers’ performance management system is not conveying an urgent message about problems in their leadership performance.

    • Relocating the Blame. They may be ignoring the evidence of problems in their performance. Or they may attribute all of these problems to other people or tough circumstances.

    • Embarrassment. Being aware of a problem does not lead directly to action. Some first line managers may be painfully aware of their shortcomings and of serious problems within their work unit. They may also feel very reluctant to talk about these problems with their supervisor. They may be even more reluctant to talk about leadership issues with their peers. The fact that most participants in leadership development are their most capable peers may further aggravate a reluctance to participate.

    • Hopelessness. Efforts to improve rest upon hope for the future. If first line managers have given up hope for a better future in their careers, they are unlikely to make efforts to improve.

    • Power Dynamics. Some first line managers may interpret the organizational dynamics as favoring the chosen few while excluding the poor performers. That is, upper management may convey a preference for investing in stars. The more marginal performers may feel unwelcomed at leadership development events.

The following post will consider some solutions to these dilemmas. It is important. A resilient workgroup needs leadership that is constantly evolving.

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