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Billions are spent on leadership development. Is this a wise spend or a waste of money? Most of what we see and read about this suggests the latter. A quick google on “why leadership development fails” gives alarming results; 14 billion dollars spend in the US which averages 150.000 USD a person with little impact on improved leadership (source: McKinsey). Similar data can be found on leadership development programs in other parts of the world including the UK.

Why does all this effort have so little impact on leadership? A fascinating question. Research reports also give many potential answers to this question;

  • the leadership training is completely disconnected from the day job
  • leadership development is confused with management training
  • one size fits all is a wrong assumption as leadership is highly dependent on the context
  • underlying mindsets of leaders are not addressed and/or changed
  • the impact or change in leadership behavior is not measured

Without any doubt there is a lot of truth in all of them. We certainly do confuse management and leadership a lot.

  • Management development is generally used to describe the selection, promotion and movement of managers through any organization and has little meaning in developing the individual skills of managers.
  • Leadership development aims to improve the individual skills and capabilities of managers to become among others good “people managers”.

However, you should not manage people, you should lead people. And there I see one the root causes for leadership programs to fail. We try to get great leaders by managing the issue. We send our managers to leadership development programs, mostly training sessions, and assume we have properly managed the issue. We completely fail to see that this training will not change managers into leaders. The best result you can expect is that the managers will know everything theoretically about leadership and the ‘right” leadership behaviors, but it’s 99% certain that they will come back and continue to behave as managers. We do not measure any change in behavior as we do not know how to do this.

Leadership development programs are a typical improvement effort where we only measure the input of the process – how many people went and how much money was spent – and we completely ignore the result of the improvement, assuming it will have a positive impact.

Reality shows that the impact is extremely low and managers do not become good leaders but continue to stay “managers” and continue to manage people instead of leading them. Leadership development programs should ban training but instead focus on coaching in the day job and a personal mentoring approach, in which managers get honest and courageous feedback on their behavior and the effects of that behavior on people and results.

We have a great selection of free whitepapers in our resources section of the website, including a paper which focuses on thought leadership. Click here to download your free white paper.



Lisa graduated with an Honours Degree in Occupational Safety and Health from Aston University in 1983 and has been actively involved in Health and Safety across a broad range of areas ever since.

Lisa is a consultant and past president of IOSH, and has particular interests in audits, stress management, behavioural safety and training.

Within the University she has designed, developed and implemented a standard university health & safety management system audit program, introduced a refreshed approach to stress management supported by a ‘Be Your Best’ programme of activities and events and delivered a wide range of Health & Safety training courses.

Her professional interests away from the University include being a current Member of the Risk Management and Audit Committee and a past President of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)

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