5 Reasons Leadership Development Fails

5 Reasons Leadership Development Fails

5 Reasons Leadership Development Fails

Plenty of organizations are developing leaders internally and creating their own leadership development programs. Research, however, shows that investing heavily in leadership seminars, workshops, retreats, books, and so on, won’t necessarily create the leaders you want. While these tactics can greatly aid the leadership development process, in the long run, you may still fail to build true leaders.

Here are some common reasons why leadership development efforts fail and don’t create the leaders you want, as well as suggestions for how you can increase the likelihood that your leadership development efforts build your employees into the leaders that you need and desire.

1. Many leadership programs aren’t designed well.

Leadership development programs or initiatives are often poorly designed, either internally by those who are not leadership experts or by those who do not have any real experience leading others. Also, sometimes leadership development training is merely based on a single leadership model, or does not fit the leadership needs of the organization, which can limit its effectiveness.  

A successful leadership development program should be created by an expert in leadership development who has experience leading others. Determining the credibility of any leadership development model, and whether it is research supported, is also crucial.

Additionally, the program and its content should be customized to the needs of the organization. Off-the-shelf programs rarely work in developing leaders.

2. High potentials aren’t given the experiences they need.

Leadership development has historically been focused on classroom learning, which while essential to the process, cannot adequately prepare leaders by itself. Rather, high potentials need many different on-the-job experiences to help prepare them for leadership, including working on real organizational issues and challenges individually, with peers, and on teams.

Emerging leaders also need chances and assignments to apply the things they learn; mechanisms to help them sustain what they learn; and the ability to experience hardships, mistakes, and failures, and work through these with the support and guidance of other more experienced leaders.

In addition, they need others to help them develop on their path. Most leaders are sought out, encouraged, and mentored by others who see leadership potential within them. These relationships are critical to their development, and important in sustaining the motivation to get them through challenges and rough patches on their journey to the top.

As a general best practice, the principle of 70/20/10 should be applied to leadership development, in which 70% of learning comes from experience, 20% comes from coaching and mentoring, and 10% comes from formal learning activities such as workshops and seminars.

3. High potentials don’t “own” their own growth.

Leadership development is not a one-way street where the employer initiates all of the development. Leadership development is also a personal, inward, character-building and growth process involving developing deeper self awareness, confidence, credibility, influence, courage, and the heart and mind of a leader. Much of this can’t be taught in a classroom or in the workplace.

In the end, developing “the leader within” must be the personal choice of a high potential. Without their personal commitment to growth, particularly in these areas, their development into successful leaders will be ineffective.

4. Management skills are mistaken for leadership skills.

How often does your organization mistake a great manager for a great leader? “Manager” and “leader” are typically used interchangeably, but there’s a stark difference. Managers don’t always make great leaders…and leaders don’t always make great managers.

Managers excel at organizing, planning, coordinating, controlling, managing work to accomplish specific results, and measuring those results. Conversely, while leaders also need to know how to manage the work, they generally excel at innovating, influencing, inspiring, and empowering others as well as creating and rallying employees around a common vision.

On a similar note, the wrong people are frequently chosen for leadership development. Organizations may not understand the proper methods of leadership assessment in order to select the right individuals to participate in leadership development. Or, they may select individuals solely based on technical competency.

5. The culture doesn’t support development.

Finally, leadership development failure can be a systems issue. If your organization does not have an enabling culture nor offers appropriate resources (budget, time, etc.), the process can fail miserably. Leadership development must be a priority. If it isn’t, the results will show.

Similarly, this includes senior management support. Current leaders, especially the CEO and senior leaders, must play a role in developing future leaders.

If they don’t make the time to do this, don’t buy into their involvement in the process, or don’t play their part in the development process, leadership development can fail.

There are so many other reasons why leadership development could fail, but making sure that your organization selects the right people for leadership, fosters a culture that supports development and growth, and designs an effective leadership program will help you lessen the likelihood that your leadership development initiative fails.

Leadership Development Training Courses

Leadership Development Training Courses

ERC offers a variety of leadership development training programs at all levels of the organization.

Train Your Employees


  • Liz Maier-Liu

    Liz Maier-Liu specializes in writing high-quality, engaging copy across all channels, including email, web, blogs, print, and social media. She is passionate about helping ERC build long-lasting relationships with clients and members through storytelling and delightful copy that calls them to action.Since 2019, Liz has supported ERC’s marketing team. She currently manages ERC’s email marketing campaigns, social media accounts, marketing automation, and websites. Liz also executes content strategies that drive engagement, leads, and customer retention.