When is leadership development a waste of money?

As a leadership development consultant, I often work with organisations looking to attract and retain top talent. However, I’ve found that investing in leadership training and development alone is not enough. Organisations need to have certain elements in place before leadership development programs will be truly effective.


My recent visit to my nail technician for a monthly appointment inspired me to reflect on this concept. While many salons might complete a manicure in just one hour, I choose to spend two hours at my technician’s salon because of her exceptional attention to detail, the high quality of her work, and the satisfaction I get from knowing my nails are well-cared for. During our conversation, she shared an insightful observation: “Even with the best products, a poor manicurist will still provide a below-average result for the client.” This resonated with me, as it highlights the importance of having the right foundation in place to deliver exceptional results.

Image of nail technician giving a manicure

Strengthening Foundations: The Nail Salon Analogy for Business Success


In the context of effective leadership development, this analogy holds true. A HR director could employ the best firm to deliver a program, but if the foundations are not in place, such as a clear strategy, a robust management and employee development framework, and a culture of psychological safety, then the results of these programs can be negligible and a waste of time and money for all involved.  If you are in a position to decide on what type of management and leadership development interventions to bring into your company, there are some basics which need to be in place first, such as:


1. A Clear, Well-Communicated Strategy

It’s critical that the organization’s overall strategy is clearly defined and cascaded throughout the company. Everyone from the C-suite to the front lines needs to understand the vision, mission, and key objectives. Without this clarity, leadership development efforts will lack focus and alignment.

I often find that even senior leaders are unclear on the strategy. If they can’t articulate it, how can they lead their teams towards it? Effective communication of the strategy is key – it needs to be repeated often through multiple channels. Only then can leadership development be targeted to support the strategic priorities.


2. A Robust Management and Employee Development Framework

Developing great leaders requires a holistic approach to talent management. There needs to be a clear framework in place for hiring, onboarding, performance management, learning and development, succession planning, and more.

Too often, organisations take a piecemeal approach, investing in leadership training without the supporting processes and systems. It’s like trying to build a house without a solid foundation – the structure won’t hold up. A robust talent management framework provides the structure to support effective leadership development and ensure it has a lasting impact.


3. A Culture of Psychological Safety

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there needs to be a culture where people feel safe to take risks, make mistakes, and speak up. Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for making a mistake. It’s the foundation for learning, innovation, and high performance.

If people are afraid to fail, they’ll never stretch themselves to grow as leaders. If they don’t feel heard, they’ll disengage. A culture of psychological safety allows people to be vulnerable, to ask for help, and to challenge the status quo. It’s the soil in which great leadership can flourish.


Building Strong Foundations

So, in summary, while leadership development is critical, it’s not enough on its own. Organisations need to invest in building strong foundations first. In the words of Leonardo da Vinci, who famously said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, we can see both the power and elegance in building a strong foundation and achieving excellence in any endeavours, including corporate settings. Without the right foundations in place, even the best training won’t deliver the desired results.


Creating an Effective Leadership Development Strategy

If you’re looking to attract and retain top talent, start by assessing the strength of your foundations. Do you have a clear strategy that’s well-communicated? A robust talent management framework? A culture of psychological safety? If not, focus on shoring up those foundations first. Then, leadership development will have a solid base to build upon and deliver lasting impact.  At O’Brien Learning Solutions we deliver holistic solutions that address the root causes of organisational issues.  Contact us today to discuss these solutions in more detail: book a clarity call or email denise@obrienlearningsolutions.ie

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