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Saturday, 8 March 2014

Leadership Development - It Can Be Done Better

In the January 2014 edition of the McKinsey Quarterly, Pierre Gurdjian and Thomas Halbeisen, both Directors of McKinsey in Brussels and Zurich, identified the 4 key reasons why many existing leadership development programs failed. They identified context, reality, behaviour, and results, as characteristics that such programs fail to consider when designing and delivering these programs.  

  • Context – this suggested that the one-size-fits all approach of many of these programs fail to appreciate that leadership itself is contextual in terms of the situational context of the individual organisation and therefore the actual circumstances that this leader finds themselves operating within. 
  • Reality – there is a potential detachment within these leadership development programs between course material and the real-life issues and challenges that the leader is facing when they reappear at work, armed with substantial theory which then needs to be aligned to the reality of the leader’s own organisation. 
  • Behaviour – effective leadership requires a sound understanding of individual behaviour and in many cases, such behaviour may need to be changed in order for that leader to be more effective in the work environment. But in the case of formal leadership development programs there exists gaps between current mindsets and the shifting mindset which may go unchallenged during the entire duration of the program, in the absence of specific and real application, as distinct to role-playing type activities. 
  • Results – formal leadership development programs tend to be less focused on return-on-investment type evaluation of the actual program itself. The benefits gained from such programs cannot necessarily be evaluated directly back in the leaders own organisation, either from a quantitative or timing perspective, save the participant feedback approach. The nature of these programs generally precludes such quantitative assessment.

The Australian Business Deans Council Report (March 2012) entitled “The Future of Management Education Scoping Paper”, also identified a number of potential shortcomings with existing tertiary business education, both in terms of content as well as delivery. The Report stressed the “fundamental point that improved people management skills, including the constructive engagement of workforces, will be critical to the development of high performance workplaces.”
Datar, Garvin & Cullen identified in their 2010 publication entitled “Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads”, a number of unmet business needs in existing MBA programs, including: “the development of leadership skills, acting creatively and innovatively, thinking critically and communicating clearly, and understanding the limits of models and markets.”

Last month, OPTIMUM NFP in conjunction with Growing People+Organisations, released a report entitled “Not-for-Profit Leadership Challenges Survey 2014 Report” which also identified key Australian NFP challenges as the effectiveness of management teams, the ability of organisations to adapt to change, and the lack of general leadership skills amongst management teams, as the most pressing of leadership challenges in that sector. 

Interestingly, the Australian Business Deans Council report identified Experiential Learning and Action Learning Projects as one of the top innovations in teaching and learning methods and approaches that should be deployed as part of management education programs.

One approach to the development of leaders that addresses all the Leadership Development Program shortcomings identified above, and responds to those challenges identified by Datar, Garvin & Cullen, is the Action Learning Question program (ALQ), which has been successfully in operation in the United Kingdom, operating in the commercial, public and nonprofit sectors, with well documented and evaluated outcomes. The process underscores the experiential and action learning related comments of the Australian Business Deans Council.

OPTIMUM NFP is pleased to announce its involvement and launch of Action Learning International in Australia through the application of the Action Learning Question Program, first developed by Professor Richard Hale of Action Learning International. Richard will be in Sydney for the launch in early June. If you are interested in an advanced booking for the Sydney launch  please register your interest by contacting David Rosenbaum at
Should you wish further information on the Action Learning International ALQ program, please contact David Rosenbaum or alternatively visit the OPTIMUM NFP website at and follow the link to Action Learning International.

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