Man unhappyAmerican Companies spend almost $20 billion a year on management and leadership development, but half of American workers say they have a bad manager, nearly 70% report they are not engaged at work, and half have changed jobs to escape a bad manager.  Reviews find that a full half of manages are rated worse than good.  All at a time when attracting, retaining and developing talented employees is more critical than ever.  How can results in this area be so poor?

In truth, leadership development programs aren’t bad, they’re just incomplete.  Most focus on teaching leadership – in other words, telling managers what they need to do in order to be a great leader. They’re about knowledge, and giving the knowledge of leadership to leaders.

And that’s fine if the goal is to get an A on the leadership test.  But that’s not the goal – the goal is for the leader to be skilled and effective at managing real people in unpredictable and dynamic situations that often involve difficult challenges.  Information on leadership is no more helpful than memorizing the operating manual before driving a car for the first time.  Knowledge just isn’t enough – leaders have to know how to apply that knowledge in real, emotionally-charged situations, and no amount of classroom time, role playing or reading will help with that.

The other truth is that leadership is hard, and most of us have issues that get in the way of our full leadership potential.  Telling a person who hates conflict to be honest about a subordinate’s weakness doesn’t help, and neither does a chapter on why honesty and openness with subordinates is important – learning to manage productively in spite of our foibles or “self-limiting stories”  is just not something people can do without support, encouragement and coaching.

Download our full Leadership Excellence Guide on Why Your Leadership Development Doesn’t Work

Did You Forget About Ebbinghaus?

The forgetting curve is steep – we’ll forget most of what we learn in a class in a few days, unleImage result for ebbinghaus forgetting curve and practicess we practice it. Ask your managers how much of the leadership material they remember from last year’s program. Coaching encourages frequent practice and use, building long-term memory.  The forgetting curve was first identified by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885. More on the forgetting curve.

The answer, then, isn’t scrapping leadership development as it stands today but rather adding on to it.  Which isn’t a shock – leading companies like Google, Facebook, Salesforce and others have leadership development programs that do exactly that, by having coaches work with most or all their managers.

That’s because coaching is different, which explains why research shows that it is much more effective than other leadership development tools.  Coaches help clients practice applying what they’ve learned to their real work, developing skills and reinforcing their learning.  Digital coaching, with its frequent coaching and feedback, is especially good at this.  Coaches also are highly skilled at understanding the roadblocks and challenges that each manager faces and helping to overcome them, and at encouraging leaders to practice to develop new skills.

Which leads us to the 70:20:10 rule – 70% of learning comes from on-the-job experience, 20% comes from coaching and mentoring and 10% comes from learning and education.  Traditional leadership development focuses on the 10%, but traditional coaching moves into the 20%, and digital coaching, with its frequent feedback and use of real-world problems as the “learning laboratory,” moves into the 70%.  An effective leadership development program has to include learning, but it’s not enough.  A truly effective leadership development program will keep the learning and will add coaching on top to help employees practice, gain insight and strategies and have accountability and support as they build the skills to apply the knowledge they’ve gained in their leadership development programs.

Todd Murtha is CEO of Careerwave. Todd is a former workplace psychologist and CEO of a 350 person internet company and is a frequent speaker on leadership, coaching and technology.

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