Leadership Development: Investment or Expense?

Willy Steiner, President, Executive Coaching Concepts

Leadership Development: Investment or Expense?

There is a decades-long debate taking place in businesses across the country about the return on investment gained from leadership development efforts. It is a question at the heart of my book, Discover The Joy of Leadership: A Practical Guide to Resolving Your Management Challenges, published on February 6, 2017. This book was the culmination of two solid years of work and I am very proud of the product that I created. I start my book off with the following conversation:

CFO to CEO: “What happens if we spent training funds developing our people and then they leave us?”

CEO to CFO: “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”

This CFO is asking a legitimate question about the return on investment for training funds. The CEO is reflecting on the critical need to develop your people. My early career was with the RCA Corporation and then General Electric and both of them had a solid historical commitment to management and executive development. If you are going to manage others, the company would invest in you to ensure that you could do that to the best of your ability. The key word there is invest and when you make an investment, you do expect to get a return.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, we saw the rise of what was referred to as the “corporate raider,” folks who would buy companies and leverage them to the hilt. In such environments, leadership development became a cost to minimize, not an investment in the future of a company. The result was that little consistent investment was made except when times were flush. When things turned down, the commitment evaporated.

The result is that over the last 30 years, many folks who have assumed management roles have not been provided even the most basic leadership training to assist them in getting results through others in an efficient and effective manner.

For the last 21 years I have worked as an executive leadership coach and have provided the training and support to help leaders get better results by being better leaders. Now some may say that not everyone needs support and leadership development because they are born leaders. There is no question that some are born with a leg up on becoming an effective leader. Their innate personality traits will help serve them well as leaders, but are generally insufficient. But I have yet to see truly predictive measures that provide organizations the definitive insights that allow picking and choosing who to invest in training and those who not to.

It is important that I make a distinction between management and leadership at this point. On my business card, I have the following quotation from leadership guru Peter Drucker: “Management is about doing things right; Leadership is about doing the right things.” Management is about how you tactically approach your work so that you can use your experience, skills, education and influence to make things happen. Leadership is a higher order set of tasks where you set a vision, create alignment and set strategy to move organizations forward. The problem is that if you don’t develop your skills as an effective manager, you can get bogged down and find it harder to execute your vision. Acting like a manager when leadership is called for hurts everyone.

When a company decides to truly invest in the development of its leaders, a good place to start is by looking at four key factors.

Time: How can your leaders make the very best use of their time? I find that this is a foundational issue and that people inadvertently squander the time they have by not being more purposeful about how they use this precious commodity.

Relationships: How can your leaders build, maintain and enhance relationships throughout your organization as well as with key external connections? How can they develop trust and find ways to agree to disagree in an agreeable manner?

Change: How can your leaders lead themselves and others through the inevitable changes that occur in today’s work world? Learn how to anticipate reactions to change.

Communication: Do your leaders understand and appreciate the various elements of communication — the words, body language and the vocal tone we employ? Do they know how to listen well?

Each one of these four topics has other logical tangents that help us cover a large portion of the management issues that confront leaders. My philosophy is that if they can enhance their effectiveness in each of these key areas, they will be much better prepared to execute as a leader when the opportunities arise.

About the Author

Willy Steiner is the President of Executive Coaching Concepts, an executive coaching services firm dedicated to assisting senior executives in taking their individual and organizational performance to the next level. His new book, Discover The Joy of Leadership, a resource tool for leaders, is available now at http://executivecoachingconcepts.com/joy-of-leadership-book/