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The old approach doesn’t work anymore, guys. These are the new rules of how to develop leaders in your business


Entrepreneurs need to be adaptable and responsive. This requires a flexible and agile approach to leadership and leadership development.

Leadership theory is no longer enough. In this increasingly complex and volatile environment, it’s not what you know that matters, it’s what you do with what you know that makes the difference.

The old rules don’t deliver. 86 per cent of HR and business leaders surveyed by Deloitte, cited leadership as one of their most important challenges and yet the majority of HR directors agree that their leadership development programs are ineffective or do not provide lasting results.

‘Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.’ —Jack Welch.

We may believe this to be true, but are we acting like it’s true?

Why is the standard approach to leadership development failing?

Content is not targeted

Solutions cater for the masses more than individual needs. Learning is not targeted at a level to create sustainable behaviour change; it is focused more on skill than on mindset. Strategic links to business priorities and outcomes are weak, so it’s hard to measure the impact of training on business drivers.

Classrooms alone don’t cut it

One-off training events don’t support on-the-job changes. Only 15 per cent of formal learning is applied back on the job—85 per cent of learning content is wasted.

Development budgets are directed at typical classroom-based training, which contributes 24 per cent of learning effectiveness, while only 5 per cent of time is invested in training follow-up, which contributes 50 per cent of learning effectiveness.

Arid application environment

70 per cent of training failure can be attributed to lack of follow-up including lack of manager and peer support, no incentive to apply new lessons, and lack of coaching and feedback to support behaviour change.

The new rules: direct development

Leadership development is not just about what happens in a classroom, it’s also about how leaders are supported to apply learning on the job.

Direct development is a response to gaps in standard development strategies. A direct development approach provides supportive conditions for real-time leadership development in the workplace, as well as translating leadership theory from the classroom to on the job.

  1. Continual events: multiple learning events that create touch points over time, which enhance learning effectiveness.
  2. Application focused: emphasis on practice and embedding learning (action).
  3. Tailored and embedded in real work: increase relevance and ROI by tailoring content to both the organisation and the individual. Application opportunities are tied to real business outcomes.
  4. Fertile application environment: on-the-job support is formalised and encouraged to aid application and embed new skills.
  5. Performance measurements: easier-to-measure results as new behaviours are linked to actual performance metrics.

How can you embrace the new rules of leadership development?

Business owners and entrepreneurs can significantly improve the effectiveness of their leadership development efforts by adopting direct development strategies outlined in my latest book ‘Developing Direct Reports: Taking the guesswork out of leading leaders’.

Some tips for making the transition include:

Redefine roles

Leaders need to embrace the role of coach to build awareness, and support growth and learning on the job. Leaders need to be technical experts and talent factories with the ability to grow people.

This can only happen when leaders stop outsourcing the responsibility for leadership development and capitalise on the significant impact line managers and peers have to support leadership development, on the job.

Redirect focus

Ensure sufficient resources like money, focus and time are devoted to valuable awareness-raising conversations and post-training follow-up activity.

Realign outcomes

Understand and focus development efforts to the real business drivers and performance metrics you want to change: What behaviours will be different? How will this impact results?

Time for change

Peter Drucker described leadership as ‘… lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard’. Where is this needed more than in a rapidly changing entrepreneurial environment?

Knowing is not doing. The development culture within organisations must progress beyond a focus on knowledge alone. The true measure of learning is what you do differently. Traction comes from action; it comes from application, on the job. This is the new game: are you ready to play?

Corrinne Armour is a leadership speaker, trainer and coach who helps leaders and teams get out of their own way and achieve their objectives. She is co-author of Developing Direct Reports: Taking the guesswork out of leading leaders.