Leadership Training

How much formal leadership training have you had either in school or that was provided by your current company?  If you are reading this blog chances are you are at a pretty high level in your organization and are responsible for a significant piece of business.  You either directly or indirectly lead a number of people who rely on your guidance and expertise to develop their careers.  Why is it we don’t give more time and effort to actually developing leaders who are so critical to the futures of our companies?

We would never dream of sending a rep into the field without weeks of training and testing, yet the higher up in the organization we get there is less and less training.  We bring people into marketing and after a day or so of orientation assume they completely understand the marketing function.  If they prove they are good at marketing after a couple years we promote them to director positions and just assume they have the skills to lead and develop other people.  There is definitively a gap here that needs to be addressed.

Take a look at this Harvard Business Review blog that reports on this issue.  The problem is not unique to the pharmaceutical industry.  Jack Zenger looked at 17,000 leaders worldwide and noticed that even though the average leader or supervisor started in their 30’s, leadership training did not begin, on average, until they were 42 years old.  It seems we give people 10 years to try to figure it out, potentially mess up other people’s lives and corporate morale before we decide some work might be needed.  It is also important to recognize, as seen in the last half of the blog, the consequences of this delay in training.  Bad habits are formed that are nearly impossible to change.  All kinds of things are being tried by the untrained supervisors without the benefit of knowledge of what others have proven before.  I guess it is like everyone sitting down at a piano keyboard banging out notes without any training.  It could work, but chances are it would be pretty painful.

Why don’t we take the time and spend the money to adequately train our leaders?  In the old days many product managers and others in the home office came from the ranks of district sales managers.  Then, they at least had training in first line management, that included extensive HR principles.  Perhaps we haven’t considered that this is not the case today with many now in the home office.  A more likely explanation is that we think everyone is too busy to spend time training.  We might think that we are all too important to take the time to develop the basic skills of managing and developing other people.  Maybe the biggest reason is that when people first become supervisors in the home office they typically only have a small number of direct reports and the job of developing other people takes a lesser role than actually doing the work of the department.

Whatever the reason we don’t develop leaders, the results are pretty obvious.  Careers get derailed.  Motivation is lower than it should be. Turnover is high.  Career development becomes a hodgepodge of stuff rather than closely directed plans.  Take a look at this study first reported in last summer’s HBR and note what young professionals are saying about their companies.  They feel well trained to actually do the job but see a huge gap in their career development.  They are crying out for mentoring, coaching and career development.  Unless they get that at their current company, and they usually don’t, they are quick to switch companies where at least they can make a little more money.

As the year begins, I challenge you to look beyond your new salary and year-end bonus and ask what will the company do this year to help you become a better leader.  Ask your boss what new leadership/people development skills they are learning this year and should you be doing the same.  Companies are made up of products and people.  Perhaps this would be a good year to really emphasize the people side and see how much quicker success happens.

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