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7 Common Leadership Development Pitfalls: How to Protect Your Development Plan

Beth Thornton

June 21, 2018

In a recent study, 83% of organizations said it’s important to develop leadership at all levels, but only 5% have implemented development programs. Of the 5% of developing leaders, many of them find themselves falling short of expectations.

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More money is spent on leadership development than any other area of corporate learning, but 71% of companies feel their leaders are unable to lead the organization and reach goals.

Studies show leaders today need to be intuitive, dynamic, collaborative and grounded in order to reach the younger generation starting their careers. These qualities can’t only be taught as definitions in a classroom setting, though. To truly take on the qualities an organization needs, employers need to give future leaders here-and-now emotional intelligence to make decisions quickly and form relationships with their coworkers.

In order to make this happen at your organization, take note of these 7 most common leadership development pitfalls and how you can avoid them:

Pretending it’s no big deal

Sometimes it’s easy to be removed from the importance of a position to your employees. When developing a leadership plan or promoting a person to a leadership position, it’s easy to wave it off and forget about the excitement the promotee is feeling. Waving the opportunity off as no big deal hurts leadership development and leaves new leaders feeling bored, unprepared and out of touch with their new position.

How to avoid it:

Make sure the people you’re promoting know how big of a step this is and what’s expected of them. Ask them if they have any objections to their new position and help them if they do. This is an exciting new experience and it should be treated as such!

Pre-planned teaching schedules

We are accustomed to walking into a teaching moment and assuming the teacher has everything mapped out and ready to go. The problem with this strategy and approach to learning is our brains aren’t emotionally involved in the learning. We learn and apply learning best when we see how it impacts our everyday life and find an emotional connection.

How to avoid it:

Throw out pre-planned teaching schedules, content or lectures and put your future leaders in actual scenarios. Give them a problem, tell them how it impacts them and the company and let them figure out the best solution for everyone.

Doing this makes them personally involved in the situation and feel the need to fix the problem far more than just showing videos or reading text of how Sally helped fix Bob’s issue.

Failing to instill confidence

Assuming someone you see as a potential leader is ready to take over right away is harmful to their progress as a leader. New managers or department heads worry about being liked and respected just like everyone else. Recognizing employees need a confidence boost in order to feel comfortable in their position is important to their success.

How to avoid it:

Tell employees exactly why they fit the new role you’re offering them before the initial movement begins. Give them reasons and examples of leadership they’ve shown in their current position so they feel they are able to step into a new and more difficult role.

Having only one way to lead

Your way isn’t the only way to successfully lead a group of people. Molding someone into an exact replica of past leaders and employees makes for a stagnant working environment. This harms leadership development plans because you’re forcing your employees into something they may not want to be, making the job more difficult.

How to avoid it:

Give them tools they need to succeed. Let them go through the trial and error process and learn from their mistakes. By giving them the framework they need, you’re giving them a direction but allowing the autonomy to do it their own way.

Developing for current needs

The needs your company has right now aren’t going to be the needs it has in a year or even 5 months. Developing leaders for current needs doesn’t do the company, or them, any favors. Company needs are always shifting and leaders should be able to adjust accordingly.

How to avoid it:

When designing your plan, think about what makes a leader flexible. Brainstorm with them to develop leadership strategies to meet needs and find new ones.

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Knowing everything

When building a leadership development plan, it’s easy to build it like you know everything. Building a plan this way can hurt the process because it doesn’t leave room for mistakes or for the new leader to come up with their own ideas. We assume the way we were trained is the way everyone should be trained, but plans need to adapt and knowledge needs to be updated with each new leader as the workforce evolves and technology starts to play a growing role within each person’s position.

How to avoid it:

Build an outline of a plan for each leadership training session, but don’t fill in every point with exactly what should be done. Leave room for the leaders you’re training to come up with their own ideas to help build their knowledge and your own.

Disrupting Egoes

It’s easy to get used to feeling like the big man in the office once you’ve been promoted to a leadership position. It’s even easier to instill this principle into those we train and for the holier than thou mindset to snowball out of control. This mindset hurts development because we start to think we’re untouchable and forget about where we came from.

How to avoid it:

Remember you started at the bottom just like everyone else and remind those you’re training where they came from also. Pay attention to the leaders in the office to make sure they aren’t getting a big head and give gentle reminders when they start to grow one.

Leadership development plans should be certainly be mapped out but it’s important the plan has flexibility to respond to needs and changes within the way we learn. No two leaders are ever going to be the same and the way you lead isn’t going to be the way your predecessor leads. Be sure to keep these pitfalls in mind when you notice your leaders start to fall off track and keep development going to prevent them from falling. Use this Leadership Checklist to ensure you don’t miss anything important and avoid the pitfalls.