Disproportionate Effort on Leadership Development?

So we come to the end of our theme for October – Does Learning Spend Disproportionate Effort on Leadership Development? We discussed the topics in meet ups, ran polls had online discussions and ran a online webinar (see the slides below). The result:

“Maybe not but we need to make that effort more effective”.

  • Leadership development and training is critical to ensure that leaders have the capability to lead the organisation world in a complex world.
  • However the effort needs to be better directed to result in more effective results.
  • The effectiveness of leadership development and training is difficult to measure and is resource intensive.
  • Off the shelf leadership competency framework is a good starting point but needs to be adapted to the needs of the organisation.

Webinar Slides 

LearningCafe Discussions

We discussed how our organisations were measuring effectiveness of leadership development and challenges. The consensus was that while leadership development was important, the way it is being delivered needs to be improved. There was discussion about whether off the shelf leadership frameworks without accommodating specific needs of the organisation.  Practices at different organisations were shared.

 What Learning Cage Members Say

Peter Davis Peter Davis, RBB,  Westpac

Leadership development is critical to business success. Perhaps, leadership programs to date though have focused too much on the structural leadership positions – execs, senior management – to the detriment of others. Leadership can operate at any level of an organisation. Indeed, companies that unleash ‘leadership thinking’ from top to bottom will be those who see innovation and competitiveness thrive. More efforts could be channeled into programs, solutions etc. that make daily work easier and therefore free up time for creative and innovative thinking.

Michael Parker, Learning, CBA

A great question and generally an area that sees significant investment in time and expense. The challenge with this and most learning is how that investment is measured and valued. Superior aligned leadership is a must for business to perform successfully in the ever changing economic and technology environments. On occasions, I feel we place too much emphasis on just the education element and not enough time and effort on the embedding and coaching of leadership within the role.


Bob Spence, Bob Spence Consulting

I think leadership development is vitally important and in an ideal world, there is probably not enough spent on it.  I think, there is a need for two types of leadership programs.

  • Those that focus on empowering, encouraging and engaging existing leaders to share their know-how, to take a personal interest in their people (the budding leaders).
  •  Those that instil leadership principles but also provide techniques for new and potential leaders to seek out and gather information from respected leaders and apply this in their work.

Generally, I worry about the effectiveness of classroom-based and also “adventure” style leadership programs.In the first instance, it is difficult to consolidate and apply leadership “skills” on the job (beyond the classroom) without coaching by a dedicated person – a respected leader.  I suspect many courses are conducted without a clear understanding of what success looks like (evaluation plan) and one must doubt if participants are chosen as a result of a well-defined process (talent/succession management) or as a “reward”. Maybe I’ve been “duded”, but adventure style “leadership” courses tend to be more about team building completely out of context (of the work place) and, as a broad statement, I question the cost benefit.

 Ryan Tracey, AMP

It makes good business sense to facilitate the development of effective leaders in the organisation. Leadership is a driver of culture, which in turn, is a driver of engagement, which in turn is a driver of performance.

While I support the philosophy of leadership development, however, I have doubts over some of the interventions that are deployed under that banner. The eye-watering costs and time associated with formal leadership training should be carefully evaluated in terms of ROI. I don’t challenge whether substantial resources should be assigned to leadership development, but rather how they should be assigned. There is plenty of scope for informal learning solutions (for example) which are less time and money hungry – and arguably more effective!

Having said that, I think the effort assigned to developing leadership skills can be disproportionate in comparison to managerial skills. All too frequently, “leaders” are promoted due to their technical expertise, but they have never managed anyone in their life! Somehow, we expect them to magically transform into Super Boss, but that’s not going to happen. What these people need is Management 101 – a no-nonsense explanation of their new responsibilities and accountabilities, and the corresponding skillset to fulfil them.

Jeevan Joshi, KnowledgeWorking

It depends on the industry and company culture, but I would have to say (on an average) “Yes” – Learning Spend Disproportionate Effort on Leadership Development.

  • Ineffectiveness of leadership development programs
  • Best learning talent is directed to leadership development
  • Effectiveness is either not monitored or difficult and expensive to do.It is difficult to find data, but Training Magazine’s (US) 2007 Industry Report finds the training budget has $58.5 billion. Leadership development, which includes both management/supervisory training and executive development, is a $12 billion industry, including internal and external spending. That is more than 20% of the total spent. Not an unsubstantial amount, spent on an audience which I suspect comprises less than 20% of  the employee population. At the very least, we need to carefully inspect if this money is being well spent.

 Judy Greenslade, Brisbane

It is fantastic to see this topic being discussed in an L&D forum. I think that organisations waste an incredible amount of time and money on leadership programs. Leadership is crucial to the success of an organisation and once organisations start altering their recruitment and selection practices for leadership roles, we will see less need for expensive programs once the leader is in place.



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  1. I agree looking at spend is important and should be regularly challenged – as all business spend should. Perhaps the question should be not how much is being spent but what are we getting for what we spend – 1. Clearly defining what leadership means within the specific organisational context e.g. Is it a function of position e.g. management? Is it thought leadership? Situational leadership? 2. What does leadership done well look like – specific to the organisational needs 3. How will this measured and over what time frame? 4. What will be different in the organisation if leadership is done well?

  2. When we look at our spend, perhaps we need to look at the evidence on what leaders contribute to organisational performance
    Your topic reminded me of a Stanford podcast I heard last November http://ecorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=2564 Bob Sutton was promoting his book. He talked a lot about leadership evidence. He cited that leaders contribute about 15% of organisation performance, and take about 50% of the credit and blame (refer to video 2 – Listen to those who lead).
    mmmm….does this mean we should spend 15% of L&D budget on leadership development? Would that be disproportionate?

  3. Hi Alison, Good to see your comments. As leadership development tends to cost more I would suspect may be 18- 20% of the budget. However whatever the current budget spent well will deliver better results.

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