Pumping development dollars at the top of the organization is dumb

Dave Winsborough / Posted On: 2 November 2021 / Updated On: 17 March 2022 / International Thought Leaders / 53

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Pumping development dollars at the top of the organization is dumb


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If you were running an airline, and you had $1million to spend on developing skills and capabilities in your pilots, when is the best time to invest it?  a) at the start of their flying career, or b) after they’ve been flying for 30 years?

 

Weirdly, when it comes to developing leadership talent in large organisations the answer is b). Yes, folks, more money is spent developing leaders after they've arrived in the executive suite than ever is spent on the team leaders and managers who have the greatest day-to-day contact with staff and customers.  

 

There is a lot of money that could be diverted into growing basic leadership at lower levels: the US poured (paywall) around US$2.5 billion dollars into executive coaching in 2017, while globally the number is probably greater than US$50bn.


Senior leaders go on leadership retreats, get executive coaches and attend expensive leadership programmes (5 days of Authentic Leadership programme at Harvard iscostsUS$16,000 while the INSEAD Advanced Management Programme is €40,000).  There are undoubtedly benefits for the people who receive this educative largesse. But what's the return for the organisations?

 

On the other hand, developing front line and middle managers produce es measurable benefits. A decade long research programme by the London School of Economics and Stanford University found that applying basic management disciplines like performance reviews, structured hiring practices and effective team leadership are linked to greater innovation, productivity gains and performance.  Good management and leadership return twice the benefits of IT implementation. 

 

The transition from employee to manager is hard. The new role brings new responsibilities, requires new ways of looking at organizations and new ways of relating to staff, peers and bosses. No matter how sensible it seems to train managers before they enter the role, hardly any firms do it.  Nearly three-quarters of all firms fail to train first-time leaders. 

 

Why does the gap in spending exist? Perhaps it’s sexier to spend on visionary, authentic leadership that deals with complexity and VUCA worlds than plain old good management? or that the people who decide on spending are themselves, executives?

 

In my experience, the people starting out on their leadership career are as keen as mustard to learn how to do things better.  They are eyes wide open,  alert to problems to be solved and motivated to implement new lessons. (On the other hand, my experience is that executives need to unlearn a bunch of things and lose their “I’ve seen it all before” assumptions).

 

So with that in mind, here’s some free advice from Winsborough’s programmes for new leaders, to help set themselves up for success better.

 

1. To step into the role, do more and do less

Moving into leadership means valuing the work of managing and letting go of much of what you did as an individual contributor. Do less of:

a.    Doing tasks that team members have to do

b.    Not delegating because you know can do it faster

c.     Micromanaging and checking – let people make some mistakes (it’s how we learn). 

Check you are doing more of:

d.    Clarifying goals and timeframes

e.    Checking in with team members

f.      Monitoring progress and milestones

g.    Removing roadblocks and getting the team what they need to do well

 

2. Ensure everyone is clear about the mission and context

When busy, or when targets move, teams can drift from their key mission. Our colleague Gordon Curphy shared evidence that shows updating context and goals often is key to success.

 

3. Get to know everyone

Be the kind of leader who takes the time to learn what each team member’s skills are, what their development needs are and what’s happening in their lives. People work better for leaders who care about what happens for them.

 

4. When in charge, be in charge

For the most part, people who are skilled in their roles don’t need a lot of leading – overbearing, picky or fussy managers do not bring the best out of anyone. But not stepping in when a decision needs to be made or dealing with consistently poor performance is just as damaging. Making a call, even if you may be wrong, is better than leaving the team hanging or interminably seeking consensus.

 

5. It’s about them, not you

Although it should be obvious, keep in mind that there can be no leader without followers. People evolved the capacity to follow because leadership is a resource for the good of the group. That is, you are there to help the group be great – not to make yourself look good. 

 

Let's be happy that airlines spend money on training pilots before they get their hands on the controls. And let's agitate for better training and development for the people who are hands-on leaders in your organisation before they hit the C-suite.

 

The post "Pumping development dollars at the top of the organisation is dumb." was first published by Dave Winsborough here https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/pumping-development-dollars-top-organisation-dumb-dave-winsborough/

 

About Dave Winsborough

Follow me to learn about modern methods of psychological profiling, talent management and high-performance teamwork. I founded Winsborough Limited, NZ's largest organizational psychology business, was recently VP of Innovation at Hogan Assessments, founder of HoganX. I write s l o w l y and painfully, so only 2 books and a wee smattering of scientific papers. I'm mostly in Aoteroa/NZ and otherwise in New York.

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