What’s Behind the Leadership Deficit? My Interview with APQC

APQC’s (American Productivity & Quality Center) ElissaTucker recently interviewed me for an article published
on their site
on March 4 called “The “Secrets” of Leadership
Development. Here’s the full interview, reprinted with permission:

APQC’s Leadership
Deficit survey research
found that leadership development programs
today are considered by many to be ineffective. What do you think are some of
the most common leadership development mistakes that organizations make? How
could these be fixed so that leadership development programs will be more

The “secrets” of leadership development are no longer
secrets. The
ones that consistently do it well year over year
—the GEs, P&Gs, 3Ms,
IBMs, etc… treat it as a strategic priority, are committed to it, and are
willing to invest in it (time and money). Yes, innovation and execution are
important to—but it all starts with top-level commitment. If you only have
half-baked (or half-assed, if I can say that) commitment (lip service), you’re
going to get half-baked results (and poor survey results). Once the CEO is on board,
the rest is relatively easy. In fact, it’s kind of hard to screw it up. Study
the research on what works and what doesn’t, learn from the best, and adapt
those tried and true best practices to your organization’s unique needs and

One of the top drivers of the leadership skills deficit,
according to our research, is that a different style of leadership is required
and that current leaders are resistant to changing how they lead.
on your experience with executive development
, what
are some steps that organizations could take to provide ongoing development to
current executives?

Successful executives are often, if not always hesitant
to change their behaviors. After all, why should they? They often connect those
same behaviors to their success (cause and effect). Sometimes they are right,
sometimes they are successful in spite of some ineffective behaviors, and
sometimes new challenges require a different set of skills and behaviors.

I’ve found the best way to help executives see the need
to change how they lead (without changing who they are) is to use 360
assessments, feedback, and coaching. It’s like holding a mirror up to them and
saying “see, this is how you’re coming across to others and the impact it’s
having on them.” Actually, you don’t have to say anything—the data speaks for
itself. Then it’s a matter of helping them identify new behaviors to replace
the ineffective ones, and helping them practice until they start to see
improved results.

You wrote a very useful blog post titled How
to Be a Leader in a Crappy Culture
. What would you
say are the elements that make up an organizational culture that encourages
great leadership?

Thanks, I got a lot of nice emails as a result of that
post (How
to Be a Leader in a Crappy Culture

Cultural elements that encourage great leadership would
be a strong set of articulated leadership values, role modeling from all
levels, openness to feedback and learning, and organizational structures that
support leadership development.

Our survey found that one of the drivers behind the
leadership deficit is that at many organizations’ selection, development, and
reward practices are encouraging an outdated style of leadership. You wrote a
blog post titled
“Strategically Aligned” is your Leadership Development Program?
can HR make sure that HR practices are aligned with the type of leadership that
the organization requires?

Hmmm, that’s the second time you’ve used the term
“outdated style of leadership.” I’m not sure great leadership—specifically the
competencies that make up great leadership—ever really go out of style. Given
that, every organization needs to put a different emphasis on critical
competencies that are needed to achieve their business objectives.  It’s a
“connect the dots” exercise: Business strategy X requires leadership
competencies A, B, C, and D. So, all of our HR practices (success profiles,
selection criteria, rewards, development programs, 360 assessments, etc…) need
to be aligned to build these critical leadership competencies.  

In practice, it’s not that easy. Picking that handful of
critical competencies is hard… and often gets muddied up with politics
and bureaucracy, and the temptation to take shortcuts.

CEOs are often cited as being very concerned about a
leadership shortage, yet our survey found that leadership development is
underfunded at many organizations. You have written a lot about the
that CEO’s play in great leadership
. Why do you
think that there is a disconnect between what CEOs say is a priority and where
investments are being made? What could an organization do to fix this

CEOs say a lot of things are a top priority. You
are the right—the proof of what is really seen as important is what’s funded,
where the CEO spends time, and what’s discussed at the monthly operating
reviews. I wish I had a prescription for that one—i.e., how to get your CEO to
make it a priority. Some have had success taking a business case approach, some
have turned the tide doing pilots and getting measurable results. Sometimes
CEOs are exposed to something (peers, an event) that makes them come back with
religion, and sometimes, if it’s not too late, the pain (poor results, lack of
successors, inability to fill critical positions, etc…) becomes so intolerable
that they are compelled to finally get serious and take action.

APQC’s survey found that developing leadership skills in
all employees is associated with an organization having a smaller leadership
skills gap and that organizations using a more inclusive, less hierarchical
style of leadership also have smaller skills gaps. Given these findings, do you
think there is still a role for high potential development programs? Why or why

Absolutely! High potential programs are just one type of
leadership development—and should never be at the expense of everyone else.
Everyone needs some kind of development—it will only make the organization
stronger, so I’m not surprised by those survey results. However, some employees
have more potential to assume larger roles than others, so the type of
development they get is different—designed to get them ready for those larger