• Jeff Doolittle

How to Improve Your Leadership Development Investment


To be successful in a rapidly changing world, we need to invest in developing new leadership skills. According to TrainingIndustry.com, an estimated $166 billion was spent in 2019 on leadership development in the United States. The more a leader learns and effectively applies, the better they perform, and consequently, our organizations achieve better results. This statement is the tenet of leadership development training. While there is some logic in that statement, it overestimates the leader's impact on the company results. The statement also underestimates the effects of company culture, the leader-follower relationship, and leader and follower traits on organizational outcomes. This article provides evidence-based insights and four simple steps to unlocking organizational talent potential and boosting corporate results by moving beyond leadership development.

"If you believe that training is expensive, it is because you do not know what ignorance costs." (Leboeuf).

Leaders perform within the company’s culture and are a part of the culture. Also, by sheer numbers alone, the most substantial part of an organization are followers, not leaders. Too often, we look to a leader to achieve organizational results rather than focusing on the reality that most results come from followers. By definition, leaders need followers, or they are not leaders. Leadership is the service to others and followership is the service to the leader, both united in a common purpose and interdependent.

Followership can account for up to 80% of organizational results (Carsten et al.).

To maximize the leadership development investment organizations, need insight into understanding: (1) globalization's influence, (2) leader-follower relationship, (3) cultural context, and (4) desired follower and leader traits.

Insight #1. Globalization

The business world is shrinking as large multinational companies continue to expand into new markets. The makeup of our workforce in our companies is becoming more diverse. One of the critical issues facing most senior leaders is the lack of ready employees within their organization. For more than ten years, we have known that organizations would begin to struggle to find talent as the Baby Boomers start to retire. Generation X is not large enough to fill the gaps created by the Baby Boomers exit from the workforce. In turn, each of the past five years, the war for talent has intensified globally. In the past, it was a company-specific problem. Now globally, countries are recognizing the challenges and looking at their policies to expand their country's workforce. If you listen to the news, you know our world is full of complex problems like cybersecurity and global political uncertainty. Still, talent management is in discussions from the boardroom to the breakroom. Companies are turning to leadership development to help solve their complex challenges. The leadership development industry is booming. Likely your company is making new investments in leadership development or considering an investment.

Insight #2. Understanding the Leader-Follower Relationship

Followership is a relatively new term compared to leadership. Followership is often perceived as a passive activity; conversely, effective followership is active and courageous. We are not talking about effective followership being a "yes man" but speaking truth to leadership and daring to disagree. Leaders in organizations are also followers. The CEO of a publicly-traded company is a follower of the board of directors. It is common to think of the follower's value in the leader-follower relationship as being half of the total amount of the relationship. Still, it is likely more accurate to think of the value of working on the leader-follower relationship as a multiplier. The follower can improve the leader's results, and the leader can enhance the follower's outcomes—globally, organizations sub-optimize leadership development strategy when focusing only on the leader. Healthy leader-follower relationships require a supportive organizational culture, specific traits, and development to enhance corporate results from leadership development investments.

Insight #3. Cultural Context for the Leader-Follower Relationship