Good Managers Take Time: The Innovators

Developing leadership skills requires a disciplined learning approach, coaching and hours of practice.
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) -- The

One Minute Manager

? Who's ever heard of The One Minute Surgeon or The One Minute Trial Lawyer? Can you become a company-certified manager after reading a book or "graduating" from a three-day class? Is it really that easy, or are we kidding ourselves?

It's no surprise that hard research confirms that today's management development approaches are largely ineffective at improving leadership. A Corporate Leadership Council study of 19,000 employees across 29 countries found that "leadership training" courses improved performance by less than 1%.



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High Performance Workforce study found, that despite an explosion in management development innovations, only 36% of companies report their leadership capabilities to execute strategies as good or excellent. This is down from 50% a few years earlier. When it comes to leadership performance, it's getting worse.

Maybe that's why management development gets cut at the first sign of an economic downturn -- executives don't believe it works. But employ correct principles, and management development can work and add real value to your business.

Leadership: a Complex Skill

Mastering leadership requires the same approach as mastering other complex skills such as playing the piano. Can a person become a certified pianist by reading

The One Minute Pianist

and attend a three-day class on piano theory? Certainly not. Playing the piano requires years of dedicated practice.

New pianists draw from the collective experiences of others to learn how specific activities should be performed. They practice, get feedback, adjust and practice again. In his book,


, Malcolm Gladwell asserts that world-class expertise in almost any complex skill requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

His research finds few instances where excellence has been achieved in less than 10,000 hours. Note that the threshold is 10,000 hours of deliberate practice -- practicing and adjusting to a defined model. Unfortunately, spending 10,000 hours in a management position doesn't count.

Leadership Development Failure: Four Causes

Today's management development practices are very different from those we would use to learn piano. Here is where we are going wrong.

  • Teaching the Unteachable. In America, we believe anyone can succeed in anything. That's not true. I am never going to play in the NBA. You can assign me, full-time, to three of the best coaches who ever lived and it won't matter. John Wooden, former UCLA basketball coach and Sporting News' greatest coach of all time, often said success largely depends on recruiting. You can't fix a talent problem with training. As the saying goes, "Don't try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it frustrates the pig."
  • Training Traits. Sales managers manage the sales pipeline, assign territories, and position with customer executives. CFOs write annual reports, manage the media, and roll up quarterly results. The two jobs are very different. Why then do companies offer the same management development course to both populations? Because many look at leadership as a set of ideal traits rather than as a learnable skill.A body of management research called "situational leadership" suggests that there are not universal leadership traits -- the leader's style needs to fit the situation (e.g., job, culture). Teach to the situation. Teach sales managers how to run a motivating pipeline review session. Teach CFOs how to create an annual report. Forget the classes on optimism or achievement.
  • Personality Games. A common activity in management development programs is self-awareness training. And the most widely used self-assessment instrument is Myers-Briggs, a 60 year old personality assessment tool. According to CPP, Inc. more than 2.5 million Myers-Briggs surveys are administered each year. Hundreds of studies show that Myers-Briggs is quite useful for career development counseling (i.e., person-job match), but can Myers-Briggs improve leadership? There seems to be no empirical evidence that it does. If the purpose is to have a stimulating discussion on who we are at our core, Myers-Briggs is a good tool. But if you want better leaders, neither personality tests nor tear-filled sessions of childhood traumas will get you there.
  • Product-based Courses. What is the goal of management development? Is it to create an emotionally well-adjusted workforce or is it to grow profitable revenue? Programs like The Fifth Discipline or The Socially Intelligent Manager assume 1) class participants will emerge self-actualized (if only mental health professionals could do that in three days), and 2) self-actualized managers deliver better results. If your data confirms both assumptions, do it. Otherwise, don't buy packaged programs. Teach to the job and offer therapy in your benefits package.

Changing the Paradigm

Develop leadership as you would develop any other skill. First, choose a role and define success. Next, build a disciplined learning path - what to learn and practice week-by-week to achieve that success.

Use Jim Williams' book,

Learning Paths,

as a step-by-step guide for creating a learning path for any management role. The Learning Paths method is less focused on courses and more focused on on-going coaching, practice and developmental experiences - just like learning the piano. It is a simple, practical approach for moving leaders to higher performance, faster.

Leadership is a complex skill. It's not about certification; it's about being able to do something that adds value to shareholders, customers and employees. When it comes to great leadership, there are no shortcuts.

-- Written by Brad Hall in New York

Hall is managing director of Human Capital Systems (, a firm that designs systems for improving workforce performance. He is also an instructor in Duke Corporate Education's teaching network and author of The New Human Capital Strategy. Hall was formerly a senior vice president at ABN AMRO Bank in Amsterdam and IBM Asia-Pacific's executive in charge of executive leadership and organization effectiveness. During his tenure, IBM was twice ranked No. 1 in the world in Hewitt/Chief Executive magazine's "Top Company for Leaders." Hall completed his Ph.D in industrial-organizational psychology at Tulane University, with a dissertation on people management practices of Japanese corporations.