The Leadership Dilemma—Convincing Executives to Invest in Their Own Professional Development

Sep 2009
Issue 01


Leaders need to become much more committed to their own leadership development or else business results will suffer—and, in many cases, disastrously so. This is the contention of a new white paper written by the St. Charles Consulting Group (click here to download).

Based on a recent study that we conducted of leadership attributes, we found that some of the lowest scores were in areas where leadership actions tend to have the biggest impact in tough times, such as “managing conflict,” “driving change and innovation,” and “managing others through times of change.” In our view, until leadership skills are elevated to meet today’s unprecedented pressures and challenges, long-term operating results are likely to be lackluster.

From a talent management perspective, there are four steps to resolve this issue: 1) acknowledge the compelling need, 2) adopt a leadership framework, 3) evaluate the current environment, and 4) commit to a leadership development investment strategy.

Each of these four is briefly summarized here and can be read in depth by downloading the white paper. (Download Link)

Acknowledge the compelling need—

There is an indisputable leadership crisis in this country, and one of the primary reasons is that too many individuals in leadership positions do not exhibit “learning agility” – or, in other words, they do not seem able “to learn from experiences and apply what [they] have learned to new, different, and often, unmapped situations.” (Ed Betof)

To turn this around, our leaders need to become more agile. They need to become better learners … and it will not happen by chance. It will happen through deliberate development initiatives.

Adopt a leadership framework—

It is important to have a consistent framework to understand leadership, evaluate your current leaders, and develop the right solutions. St. Charles developed a model that we call The Leadership Portfolio™. We use the term “portfolio” for 2 reasons: 1) it reflects the fact that leadership assets, as in an investment portfolio, offer a potentially high ROI, and 2) leadership skills are like an artist’s portfolio—holding the best elements of your work that you carry with you wherever you go.

The Leadership Portfolio has 4 main categories (with 6 competency areas under each that can be seen in the white paper):The Leadership Portfolio

  1. Lead Self
  2. Lead Teams
  3. Lead Business
  4. Lead Forward

Evaluate the current environment—

We applied The Leadership Portfolio to a benchmarking study of various senior human resources and learning professionals in a variety of industries. Our overall findings are:

  • Leaders are under-investing in their own professional development.
  • Leaders are often not recognizing and leveraging the talents of their people.
  • Leaders are failing to set performance expectations of others as well as they could and should.
  • Leaders are failing in their ability to manage conflict well.
  • Leaders are generally not providing the on-the-job coaching support that is needed.

Commit to a leadership development investment—

In order to be successful, leadership development programs should have the following characteristics:

  • The program is an integrated experience, not an event.
  • The program is based on complementary development components.
  • Senior leadership owns (and participates in) the program.
  • Selection criteria and process identify strong leadership candidates.
  • Participants are highly committed.
  • Participants become a tightly networked cohort.

Our integrated leadership development model combines these aspects with nine potential lines of activity, including leadership shadowing, peer coaching, and action leadership. See the white paper for a full description of all nine.

In sum, following a disciplined process, organizations can design a learning experience that will dramatically improve leadership skills and develop much greater bench strength in the leadership ranks, leading to significantly better business results over the long term.