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Why leadership development doesn't change some people

November 28, 2016
Borderless Leadership

Statistics show that 40% of people are unaffected by leadership development. Here are the steps you should follow to turn the non-responders around.

My firm Zenger Folkman measures leadership effectiveness using a 360-degree feedback process in which 15 or so subordinates, peers, and the boss pool their perceptions of a leader. They complete an on-line assessment and the results are then passed onto the leader who was assessed. By repeating that measurement every 12-18 months, the organization can monitor the collective amount of change that comes from any development program. The difference scores tell you whether or not the leader in question has made significant change.

In examining the data from several large organizations we found that roughly 60% of the participants indeed get better. Some company executives are extremely pleased with that outcome. I, however, am not. Why? Because that suggests that 40% of leaders developed stayed the same, or perhaps became worse. This is frustrating to me because every participant uses the same materials, goes through the same experiences, and has the same facilitator conducting the sessions. The leaders receive the exact same inputs, but produce widely different outcomes.

Why does this bother me so greatly? First, the company made the development available because they expected that it would help the organization’s performance improve. They anticipated that employee engagement would go up, retention of employees would improve, productivity would increase and customer satisfaction would get better. The positive results they obtained came from the 60% of the participants who are carrying all of the additional load. Think what would happen if 90% percent of participants had changed.

The second discouraging element is that organizations conduct development to help individual leaders become more effective. They want to propel their careers, to have them enjoy work more and to feel the exhilaration of moving forward, versus standing still. But 40% of their participants blew the opportunity off.

The third frustration is that, in general, the people who needed development the most were among the 40% who chose not to use it.

How do you change someone’s behavior?

Try entering “change behavior” into a search engine. You’ll pull up literally 218 million entries. Enter “change management” and you’ll get another 78 million. There is no shortage of opinions and information about the topic of change.

The most helpful wisdom about change, in my opinion, comes from James Prochaska. He has devoted much of his life and career to studying personal, behavioral change. He concludes that change goes through several stages.

1. Pre-contemplation. It begins with people never having thought about the necessity of changing.

2. Contemplation. Then they begin to think about it and envision themselves changing their behavior.

3. Preparation/Experimentation. People then “dip their toe in the water” and try it out.

4. Action. People begin to actively use the new behavior.

5. Sustainment. The final stage involves a variety of actions to sustain the change. Think of the weekly meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.

6. Coping with setbacks. Change seldom proceeds on a steady, upward path. Instead it happens in fits and starts. Setbacks are normal.

The core reason, then, that leadership development only changes some people is that it is limited to the people who make the personal decision to change and then follow through. Can we have greater success? Yes. Management can coach participants to help move them quickly to the contemplation stage. They can encourage experimenting with new behavior, thus moving colleagues from experimentation to taking action. Ongoing coaching sessions can help people deal with setbacks and increase the likelihood of permanent sustainment.

Prochaska’s big “aha” was that people don’t successfully jump from Stage 1 to Stages 5 and 6 in one bound. The steps that enable change move in order. As leaders, by and large we have failed to recognize these stages and leverage the vital role managers play in helping people move in a surefooted way through those steps. Knowing and respecting this process could move the needle from the 60% who change to positive improvements to 90% of leaders (or more).

How much of a difference could this additional engagement and effectiveness make for your company? Regardless of your specific answer, the improved outcome is bound to be large.

By Jack Zenger

Source: Forbes

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