4 min read

Is the Leadership Industry Failing You?

Are you being duped by the leadership industry? Is the leadership industry doing a dis-service to you? Sometimes I really wonder how helpful it is, specifically to the business community.

And yes, it is an industry. As I shared in a previous post, Are You Ignoring This Great Business Advice, it's a billion dollar industry. Yet I often wonder if we're getting billion dollar results.

In reality, there are still so many terrible, unskilled leaders/managers! Look at any survey of the top reasons why people leave jobs (and this has been true for many years)…right at #1 or close to it is their boss. This reflects a severe disconnect between money spent and outcomes achieved — at least in this context.

So is the leadership industry failing? I know that is a provocative post picture and you can click the link beneath for the associated article. I don't see it as failed, but I do see it as lacking. There are definitely flaws and critical, underserved and unserved gaps.

So, in thinking and writing out loud here, I'd like to share some observations gleaned from years of working with leaders and managers in a variety of contexts and industries and from current conversations with decision-makers.

To start, I think the leadership industry comes from a view of positioning leadership as somewhat self-serving - appealing too much to ego and role glorification that promotes visions of self-grandeur and perhaps feeds aspirations for the wrong reasons. (Though I don't think many would see this.)

Go to any major leadership conference and you'll see speakers who are leadership heroes like Colin Powell, Tony Robbins, Cheryl Sanberg, to name a few. It's as if it's about becoming like them -- focusing on leadership in and of itself as a stand alone entity or achievement.

It seems as if the industry focuses on the leader more than the point of it -- which is getting results by utilizing all available resources -- including humans.

leadership is an operational function and role

And since working with humans can be the most challenging piece of that equation, some elements of the industry tend not to be realistic, practical or thoroughly forthcoming.

You probably won't see a book anytime soon entitled: Being a Leader or Manager Can be Hell - So Don't Do It! or If You Want to Increase Your Stress to the Point of Endangering Your Health - Become a Manager! These titles probably wouldn't sell well - or would they?

Try to find a book on how to successfully lead employees with low emotional and social intelligence who are barely employable. I haven't found one yet. Now more than ever, this situation among others are the grass roots challenges of many frontline and mid-level leaders.

Most leadership books are written with the subconscious assumption that those being lead will be responsive to whatever tactic or quality is being promoted. But the reality is the level of responsiveness is dependent on the level of adult development -- their social, emotional and intellectual maturity.

What about employees that aren't at reasonable levels of maturity? Few leaders know how to skillfully manage them and some then blame the employees for the difficulty.

Bottom line -- for many managers leading is hard...very hard! It's stressful, it's complicated, it's frustrating.

And many managers who experience management like this have very little support or help. With the labor market tightening, this will only get worse. I call them, the forgotten managers.

So, how can the leadership industry better serve current leadership and management needs? One way for sure is by being more grounded and realistic regarding the current and impending needs being created by the changing labor market and being truthful about common management experiences.

How about we start now with a few get real truths. Here's what the leadership industry, senior leaders, and HR professionals should be acknowledging and addressing. It's also what aspiring leaders should know.

Get real truths regarding leadership and management:

  1. Many people don't want to be managers! But it's their only choice for career advancement and increased pay. We need more creative career pathing (note to my HR peeps)!
  2. Learning to be and being an effective manager is hard work. And for many, they will not be appreciated by those they lead or their direct report.
  3. Self-care must be a necessary part of life because a lack of support and training will cause a lot of unhealthy stress.
  4. Leadership and management exposes and amplifies personal flaws -- such as level of social and emotional intelligence, maturity and character. It can also help personal and professional development in all these areas -- if allowed.
  5. Effective leadership is situational. Leadership is only relevant based on the context and people being led at the moment. It is not a one size fits all. Just because someone was a successful leader in one context does not mean he or she will be in another.
  6. Just because people have been managing for a significant period of time, does not mean they are good at it. Since many managers go for years without adequate training, they could have a lot of experience at being an ineffective or bad manager. Experience does not equal competence.
  7. If successful, it may serve your career, it may get you promoted ...or not. Yes, bad leaders get promoted above good leaders...shocking I know.
  8. The most significant challenge in being an effective leader is learning how to work with people to get results. Sad to say, many senior leaders are disconnected and removed from the pain of this challenge and the suffering of frontline and mid-level managers from lack of knowledge and skill in this area and therefore are unmoved to respond or invest to help. Additionally, some HR professionals don't have the credibility or influence to successfully advocate on your behalf.

Advice to aspiring managers: Make a commitment to invest in your own learning, build your own suite of competencies because some companies won't. Or, what little they will do will be sorely inadequate for the challenges at hand.

I wrote this piece because I know if we don't do truth, things won't change. I help clients do both for better outcomes. How is your leadership and management development activity at your organization? Is it successfully serving all parties as well as the outcomes needed for your company?

It may be time for a "get real" session at your organization. If you need help, let me know. joann@jcsbusinessadvisors.com / 888.388.0565 / www.jcsbusinessadvisors.com > go here to learn about our radical alternative to developing leaders, managing talent and maximizing operations all while growing a business.