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TheStreet Open House

Today's Leadership Development Approach Does Not Work

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- A 2012 survey of 500 executives conducted by The Conference Board found two-thirds of the respondents named leadership development as their top human capital priority.

However, a study by Accenture found that only 8% of surveyed executives feel their company is proficient in developing leaders. Additionally, a study by the Corporate Leadership Council found people management training improved productivity by only 2%.

Although leadership development is perceived as important, today's paradigm doesn't seem to work.

The reason is simple. Leadership is a complex skill. But today's leadership development approaches are inconsistent with tried and true skill development paradigms.

Take, for example, playing the piano. The standard development method is, at a minimum, a weekly one-on-one lesson with a teacher followed by an hour, each day, of focused practice.

We all know that to achieve even moderate piano skills, years of lessons and practice are needed. There are very few, if any, master pianists who started their training in adulthood.

Or, consider golf. Like learning piano, becoming an expert golfer requires a coach, one-on-one lessons several times a week, and daily practice. The best golfers break their game into pieces: long drives, approach shots, sand traps, putting, etc. Then they focus on one piece and repeatedly practice until it is mastered. Most importantly, golfers receive immediate feedback. Immediate feedback is what makes golf fun.

Let's compare skill development paradigms of piano and golf to leadership development.

In many large companies, leadership training begins after a manager is promoted -- when a manager reaches his/her late 20s or early 30s. If 30 years old is too late to master a complex skill such as speaking a foreign language, could it also be too late to master leadership?

Corporate leadership training is commonly conducted in episodic classes that last from three days to two weeks. But how useful are these big gulp classes? Once a pitcher is full, the water runs down the sides. Two months after the class, a participant will be lucky to remember two or three concepts. Would a big gulp strategy be effective for learning to play the piano?

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