Leadership development is broadly a joke

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No one has exact figures on the “size” of the global leadership industry, or leadership development market, or whatever you prefer to call it. I have seen numbers from $14B to $24B to $366B (wow) back down to $44B. I honestly don’t think people know what is even involved in these big numbers. I would guess we are talking mostly about books, speeches (speaker fees?), training modules, training programs, and the like. I’d speculate (but don’t know) that a huge chunk of that is book publishing. A book on every leadership angle has seemingly been written. That’s a part of the reason I don’t really actively contemplate writing a book, even though at some point I probably should.

So regardless of the exact number, insofar as anyone even knows it, we spend billions of dollars on supposedly “developing leaders,” right? Now look at modern society for a second. The coronavirus response has been all over the place. A sizable chunk of people in the world hate their jobs, and you often end up hating your job because of your bosses and leadership team. Most employees rate their senior leaders as “out of touch.” Many are concerned with their “double talk.” There is a concern that those in leadership roles don’t actually understand strategy and are just setting fires and chasing shiny objects.

What’s more: while “leaders” get to attend lavish events and hear fancy speakers, we train managers barely at all. Sometimes there’s a 12-year gap between the first promotion to a managerial role and the first managerial training. That seems bad. And when managers do get trained, corporate training usually sucks.

It’s enough to make you think the whole concept of leadership development needs to be blown up and started from scratch.

So what are we spending these untold billions on, then?

Here’s my best guess

  • Checks the right boxes
  • Clues them into the buzzwords of the moment
  • Gives them social capital with their peers (“Yes, I read the new Gladwell too!”)
  • It’s a way to make it seem like they care about anything more than fiscal returns
  • Some really want to learn, but the books, trainings, and speeches aren’t giving them much that’s immediately useful to their business
  • Some really want to learn, but turning around an oil tanker of a 50+ person org is hard
  • A lot of times, it’s just lip service

Could we be better?

One thing we’re seeing right now is the importance of money and the economy overall. In America, they are considering sending $1,000 checks to millions of people. (Yang!) We’ve been talking about the virus as “class warfare” because some people can work from home and some cannot. It’s a whole major topic because, well, people need money. They have bills. They have stuff they want to do. That requires money — which, funnily enough, is really just a social construct!

Whether you frame it up as “We need to keep the lights on” (cool) or frame it up as “I want to get my nut” (less cool), the reality is that money does make things go round.

As a result, senior leaders are often focused almost exclusively on money.

Money demands a certain set of actions and reactions (“playing the market,” if you will), and most of that stuff doesn’t sniff these leadership development modules, which talk breathlessly about “authenticity” or “purpose.”

The bridge between those “soft” concepts and cold hard money is too far for most people, especially senior leader types.

That’s why a lot of this stuff falls flat, and that’s why we have a crisis of leadership in the first world (and beyond).

Imagine if we took those billions and put it towards effective education…

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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