Why Do Organizations Miss the Mark when Developing Their Leaders?

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

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This article is the first article in a series of articles all about helping people and leaders become people of positive influence, people that others want to follow. This particular article sets the stage for the need for this. Future articles will specifically cover topics and ideas that will help you become someone others want to follow.

Consider these shocking statistics:

And even further (and according to Deloitte):

  • Across organizations, leadership is the #1 talent issue, with 86% of respondents rating it as “urgent” or “important”

  • Yet, 87% of organizations say they don’t do an excellent job developing leaders at all levels

Why is this? Why is there such a disconnect?

Surely, there are a variety of factors, but I think there is one main factor.

Why Leadership Development is Broken

From my experience seeing (1) how organizations typically develop their leaders, and (2) what leadership researchers primarily focus on when studying how to develop their leaders, I believe most organizations and researchers miss the mark.

When investing in leadership development, most organizations and researchers focus on improving leadership behaviors. This means that they focus on all the things leaders need to DO to be a good leader, all the boxes they need to check off.

But leadership isn’t about DOing the right thing, it is about influence (having the ability to direct others to goal achievement). It is about BEing someone others want to follow and be influenced by.

So, when organizations prioritize DOing over Being, they are emphasizing an aspect that is less critical to effective leadership. Further, they fail to recognize that BEing comes before DOing.

What is an organization to do?

So how does an organization focus on BEing?

Organizations need to focus on what I term self-leadership.

Self-leadership is an individual’s ability to influence develop one’s own self. This requires at least three things central to our being:

  • Self-awareness – Our capacity to stand apart from ourselves and examine our thinking, our motives, our history, our scripts, our actions, and our habits and tendencies (Stephen R. Covey; see these posts for more info: 1, 2, 3)

  • Mindfulness – Our ability to be present and aware of ourselves, others, and the world around us in the here and now

  • Emotional Intelligence – The ability to (1) monitor one’s emotions, (2) control one’s emotions, (3) recognize the emotions of others, and (4) respond appropriately to others’ emotions

Thus, if organizations want to more effectively develop their leaders, they need to focus on these three things. But, this requires two things from the organization:

  1. Providing leaders with adequate time and space to develop in these areas. Stated differently, people don’t develop in these areas when they are inundated with deadlines, in fact the opposite occurs.

  2. (and especially if deadlines are a perpetual issue) It requires that the organization intentionally create a culture conducive to the development of self-leadership.

I think Brené Brown said it best, when she said:

“To scale [self-]leadership and build courage in teams and organizations, we have to cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations, and whole hearts are the expectation, and armor is not necessary or rewarded.

If we want people to fully show up, to bring their whole selves including their unarmored, whole hearts—so that we can innovate, solve problems, and serve people—we have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.”

If you want to assess the degree to which your organization has a culture conducive for self-leadership, or if you would like guidance on how to develop the three elements of self-leadership in your organization, please reach out to me:

What is Coming Next?

I hope this article leads you to ask:

  • Am I someone others want to follow?

  • How can I measure the degree to which I am someone others want to follow?

  • How can I become more of someone that others want to follow?

For the next month or two, I will release articles that will help you answer these questions. The topics will include:

  • Purpose

  • Values

  • Intellectual humility

  • Trust

  • And more

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