The Dangers of Leaving Leadership Training to Chance

July 6, 2022

Verity Creedy

in BLOG

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. Learning they can do on their own puts them in the driver’s seat. It gives them greater control over their professional 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 shouldn’t set leaders loose with a library of learning content and hope for the best. This approach leaves your leadership training to chance.


The Risks of Going It Alone for Leadership Development

Using the “build it and they will come” approach for development only works if leaders come. What if only 35% come? Even worse, what if no one participates? Ten-minute learning seems easier to “skip” than a more formal learning engagement.

Perhaps some leaders browse your learning library and find five possible development models. They each choose a different model than their peers. And peers choose a different model from their managers. 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 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 formal, purposeful development. According to our Global Leadership Forecast research, leaders’ preferred style of learning is personalized development experiences.

But what else do leaders need to 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. Anyone can develop leadership skills. Yes, it’s true that some people have natural tendencies toward key leadership skills. But it’s also true that nobody is born knowing how to lead. We all need opportunities for focused and deliberate development and real-life practice.

2. New behaviors and habits are developed over time.

Learning new behaviors or changing old habits takes time. This is why people can’t develop leadership capabilities from a one-time course. Effective leadership development programs involve a series of 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 leadership situations and challenges. These evergreen skills will serve leaders through all stages of their careers and prepare them with the foundations to manage multiple political, environmental, and organizational changes.


The Skill Areas Leaders Need to Thrive

Leaders need skills across several categories including communication, business judgment, and personal mastery:

Interaction EssentialsSM

The Interaction Essentials are powerful skills that enable you to have meaningful and productive conversations with others, especially when someone is different from you. These skills help leaders meet both the personal and practical needs of others and include principles like listening, responding with empathy, asking for help, and encouraging involvement.

By using the Interaction Essentials, leaders can create a positive environment to build relationships, communicate, and get the job done. Using them consistently can improve your workplace culture and is even proven to positively impact the bottom line.

Business Judgment 

Having sound business judgment is the ability to make decisions aligned to the company’s cultural and strategic priorities. And good decision making is as important 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 at the center of all that you do
  • Delegating work in a way that empowers your team members
  • Building networks across the organization to stay up to date on the business

Personal Mastery

Personal mastery is about knowing yourself and managing how you work with others. It is 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 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 must maximize each opportunity and pivot quickly when necessary to make it in today’s competitive global marketplace. Excellent leadership is essential.

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 a hand? 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 Ultimate Guide to Leadership Development.

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 U.S. Headquarters.

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