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The Dangers of Leaving Leadership Training to Chance

November 4, 2020

Verity Creedy


If your leaders are going to get better, your leadership training program needs to include more than self-directed learning.

Have you given your leaders self-directed leadership training as part of their development? My bet is your answer is yes. And that’s a great answer because self-directed learning should be part of your company’s leadership development approach.

Why? Leaders are busy. They don’t have a lot of time to spend on development, so they want the time they do spend to be meaningful. And giving them learning they can do on their own time puts them in the driver’s seat. It gives them greater control over their development. It also allows their learning to be more personalized to the learning styles they like.

But that doesn’t mean all leadership training should be self-directed. You can’t just set leaders loose with a learning library of content and hope for the best. This approach is most certainly leaving your leadership training to chance. Why? It’s too risky for two reasons:

  1. Using the “build it and they will come” approach for development only works if leaders come. What if, say, only 35% come? Even worse, what if no one participates?
  2. Say leaders that do browse your learning library find five possible development models. They choose a different one than their peers choose. And then their peers choose a different model than their managers choose. The result? Everyone is talking a different leadership language. No one is on the same page. There’s no accountability. And keeping track of everyone’s development goals? The inconsistency across goals makes it difficult—if not impossible.

If your leaders don’t have the leadership skills to succeed, their execution will suffer. Their teams will suffer. And your bottom line will suffer. So what kinds of development do your leaders need to change their behavior and make them better?

One format does not fit all. That’s why learners prefer blended learning journeys built just for them that balance self-directed learning with more formal, purposeful development. According to our Global Leadership Forecast research, leaders told us their number-one preferred style of learning is personalized development experiences.

But what else do leaders need to truly develop? They need lots of opportunities to practice new skills. They also need to know how their new skills will help them, their teams, and your company succeed.

3 Reasons Your Leaders Need Purposeful Development

There are reasons why self-directed learning shouldn’t be your only bag of tricks when it comes to development. Here’s why your leaders need more than self-directed learning to be their best:

1. Leadership skills don’t come naturally.

The debate about whether leadership skills can be developed is over. Yes, it’s true that some people have natural tendencies toward key leadership skills. But it’s also true that nobody is born to be a leader. However, everyone can develop leadership skills. And everyone can benefit from focused and deliberate development.

2. New behaviors and habits are developed over time.

Learning new behaviors or changing old habits takes time. This is why leadership development efforts can’t be built on a single event. So what do effective leadership development initiatives have? They involve a series of development experiences and reinforcement activities over a period of time.

3. Core skills remain relevant.

It is impossible to prepare your leaders for every single situation and challenge they will confront. But you can give them a core set of skills that will improve their impact across multiple leadership situations and challenges. These are also the skills that will serve leaders through all stages of their careers.

The Skill Areas Leaders Need to Thrive

The must-have skills all leaders need fall across categories including communication, business judgment, and personal mastery:

Interaction EssentialsSM

The Interaction Essentials are powerful skills for having meaningful and productive conversations with others, no matter how different they are from you. These skills include both the personal and practical needs that a leader will have in an interaction.

Above all, these skills create a positive environment for people to communicate. Using them consistently is sure to improve your workplace culture. The Interaction Essentials are even proven to positively impact your bottom line.

Business Judgment 

Having sound business judgment is the ability to make decisions aligned to the company’s cultural and strategic priorities. And the importance of decision making is as true at lower levels of leadership as it is at the top. Skills related to business judgment include:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving.  
  • Driving for results and meeting objectives.
  • Customer focus: keeping the customer needs and wants top of mind and center of all that you do.
  • Delegating work in a way that empowers your team.
  • Building networks across the organization to stay up to date on the business. 

Personal Mastery

Personal mastery is all about knowing yourself and managing how you work with others. It’s the ability to understand and use your own skills, personality, and motivations to do your best on the job.

Having a strong sense of emotional intelligence and a growth mindset are two important skills that will help you achieve personal mastery. Likewise, being receptive to feedback and having mental toughness are also two skills that people with strong personal mastery spend a lot of time getting good at.

How to Solve Your Business Challenges: Great Leadership

Show me a business today that is not looking to drive growth. Businesses booming with opportunities are trying to maximize each one. However, companies negatively affected by the business landscape are required to quickly pivot their strategy in a new direction. But excellent leadership is going to be essential in either scenario.

And it’s these three core skill areas that leaders of all levels need to perform their best. So how can you be sure your leaders have what they need to grow your business?

Start by creating a leadership development strategy that offers foundational leadership training for leaders of all levels. Need help? We’re by your side to help you start building better leaders to solve your biggest business challenges.

 To learn more leadership development best practices, download DDI’s Leadership Development Playbook.

Verity Creedy is a Director in DDI’s Product Management team. Usually living in London, Verity has spent time working at five different DDI offices, including our US Headquarters. When she’s not identifying future frontline leader product needs, Verity can be found sweating in spin classes, eating various types of bakery items, and telling people about her adoration for Taylor Swift. If you have any frontline leader product ideas, pastry favorites, or Swifty news, send them to

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