Thursday, March 5, 2020

Is Investing in Leadership Development a Waste of Money?

If you had to choose, if you only had limited funds to invest in leadership development...what would you invest in and why? Seriously consider this question, write down your answer before reading further.

Are You Ready to Make a Change?

For many of my readers, particularly those who follow me on Twitter, I announced that I would be vlogging and blogging through the book The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. It popped up on my radar a couple of years ago with a few clients - one who'd given the book as a gift to their executive team and another who made it required as part of their monthly leadership read. For those not aware of who he is, he is known as the father of modern management. This book was first published in 1967.

And as someone who has worked in the field of leadership and management development for over 22 years, in a different era, I was curious if there would be any similarities in our findings, insights and recommended practices. I am pleasantly surprised for a variety of reasons, which I'll share in continued posts.

One surprise and confirmation is related to this post and here it is: Human behavior is well...human behavior - it's consistent and predictable. You know that verse in Proverbs, "...there is nothing new under the sun?" When it comes to human behavior that's been proven true throughout time. As humans we are wired and built a certain way.

As it relates to being an effective leader/executive, which requires the behavior of creating habits, being disciplined, it's all fundamental to how the brain is wired and what it can produce.

The Emphasis of Effectiveness

As someone who is familiar with the concept of being effective through my time management workshops taught for many years throughout North America and as the author of the companion book, Organizational Strategies for the Overwhelmed, I am keenly aware of the importance of being effective.

So I was particularly struck by the substantial weight Mr. Drucker gives it as a critical skill for executive leadership.

From my initial read of the first few chapters, I have found the following quite compelling:

1>  Mr. Drucker makes a fascinating case for effectiveness as a critical skill for all knowledge workers at all levels as well as executive leaders. He sees being an executive beyond a title or place in the organizational hierarchy. I wrote a post addressing that here: Leadership Tip: Boost Your Impact - Be an Executive!

2> Additionally, after his years of observation and working with a volume of diverse leaders in a variety of corporate structures - non-profits, government as well as traditional c-suite, he sees effective executive leadership as incredibly valuable and equally rare.

3> And finally - and this is what I found the most interesting, particularly from my years of working in the field of leadership & management development - he sees developing the skill of effectiveness as the #1 most important skill to invest in and focus on - above all others.

He believes that this should be the #1 priority in executive development.

He offers 4 thought provoking points:
- Effectiveness is about achieving results - which is the entire purpose and point of being a leader.
- Being effective can make up for a deficit of other qualities or capabilities leaders "ideally" need (this was an eye-opener and yet made perfect sense as he explains it).
- Effectiveness is typically not natural. It must be and can be learned - which of course is good news!
- Being effective is not complicated, but actually rather simple. It is the habitual practice of a few strategic actions. He stated, "Effectiveness is a discipline."

So WhyTreat Effectiveness as the #1 Priority Investment?
This part was really quite interesting...

Drucker emphasizes that a leader can have good qualities, have certain skills and relevant knowledge and yet not be able to translate them into meaningful results - in other words, leverage them into something of value - value defined: worth, merit, importance.

So, as is typical with conventional thinking regarding leadership value and how to increase it - it is believed that an executive or leader would do better - perform better - (aka achieve needed results) if they had more, for example:
  • knowledge about a particular topic
  • better vision
  • innovative thinking
  • knowledge about AI
  • better "executive presence"
  • speaking skills
  • personal development through executive coaching
to name a few. So that's where executive development money goes.

Drucker asked...even if those were increased - would that person be able to translate those gains into improved needed results?...are they even necessary to do so?

** He observed that raising the standard for abilities, adding more, improving the current list didn't necessarily or automatically convert into needed outcomes - as expected. This is a profound finding.

Compelling point => Someone can improve in a variety of areas and still not achieve what's needed. Typical thinking goes like this..."We're not getting the results we want, so we need to improve x, y, z - developing effectiveness is not typically on this list.

This is a critical insight related to training and development spend for any employee, especially leaders and managers. By the way, he includes in the definition of executive effectiveness, the ability to develop that capability in others.

Clearly Defining What We Mean
Two items need to be clarified. When we reference results, what do we mean and when we talk about effectiveness what do we mean?

▷ Results: Results simply defined are outcomes. For clarity, there is always a result - it's part of the universal law of cause and effect. However, the point here is achieving the desired or needed results.

Here is the essential distinction => categorizing results by need. Here is need defined: something required because it is essential, very important or necessary.

Using this definition suggests the necessity to qualify results by applying a value to them. To be an effective leader we need to be clear and understand - different results have different levels of value.  

So a leader's effectiveness is doing what's necessary to satisfy what's needed.

Once we work with this premise, it serves to guide decisions and actions. Leaders can work with more confidence and purpose...and develop strong convictions about how to navigate the typical day to day activities that might get in the way. Drucker describes them as inherent forces within an organization that work against being effective. This is a case when the force will probably not be with you.

Of note - sometime we'll get a good result though it may not be the exact one desired or targeted. And in that case, we may compromise what we really wanted because at least something positive occurred. The bullseye board may have been hit, but not the bullseye itself. Not succumbing to compromise in this case is the test of an effective leader. As Jim Collins suggests - good can be the enemy of great.

▷ Effectiveness: the ability to translate any volume or level of skill, knowledge or quality into a needed result - contributing in a meaningful way. This, according to Drucker, is a separate, distinct executive competency and is the power partner to all others. It's what makes the rest matter!

It's kinda like all the delicious, expensive ingredients used to make bread that will not matter and be experienced as intended  - in fact go to waste - if the yeast is omitted.

Yeast is a converting is the skill of effectiveness.

His premise - and what I see as a very compelling argument - is that the better approach is to first make better use of what's already present by learning to convert current skills and knowledge. His observation was developing the ability to convert into more value first - learning to be effective - was the best focus, since that's the ultimate goal anyway.  His point - why add on more capabilities, expand the volume of a quality if that person doesn't know how to convert them.

This is a fascinating truth => a variety of people with a variety of capabilities can produce needed results - even without adding more capabilities, knowledge or qualities. Or put another way, someone with a lot of impressive experience and capabilities can still be ineffective.

Think about this for a moment. Consider this from the training and development industry. It suggests there has been a boatload of money wasted because our focus and expectations have perhaps been misplaced.

To drive home the point, he asks this key question, "Can a leader translate her/his qualities, skills and knowledge (and of those they lead) into needed results?" His observation...many don't because being effective is not treated seriously, clearly defined and is confused with activity.

The perceived value is seen as this, "He/she is certainly busy doing stuff." Activity is seen as the value rather than what the activity is producing - or lots of activity presumes meaningful results. And therefore, a lot of money is wasted investing in senior leadership coaching and development that does not return the best or right value. (Of course in some cases there has been even a loss).

So let's circle back to our opening question,, "If you had to choose, if you only had so much money to invest in leadership development....where would you invest it and why?" After reading this, perhaps learning to be effective will now be your answer. You can send me a thank you card for all the money you will save after reading this post. You're welcome! 😃

Exciting News! // We're excited to launch our new digital arm - Manage Global. To compliment our global reach with our LinkedIn Learning courses, we're offering a compelling resource - The Smart Management Blueprint that can be accessed and implemented in any business environment, world-wide. It provides a step-by-step roadmap to simultaneously improve business and people management while developing competent managers. If you feel a need for improvement in any of these areas you'll want to learn more. Check it out here! =>

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