In uncertain times, employees instinctively look to their leaders with the expectation that they are prepared to weather the storm. But a recent survey indicates that learning and development initiatives may not be preparing leaders for the challenge.
A survey of 205 managers and executives by the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics at Duke University found that the learning initiatives provided by both universities and organizations have significant room for improvement.
“In challenging times, people want to believe that their leaders understand the real challenges and that the leader’s rhetoric on critical issues is authentic and can be trusted,” said James Emery, the research director with Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics. “[However], we found that across the board there were no [leadership] programs that were rated as very good or excellent as an average rating.”
While employees at small employers rated their organization’s training and development programs and executive coaching services as good, their counterparts at large employers rated them in the fair to good range. While there’s no direct explanation, Emery offered some possible reasons.
“It’s possible that executives in small organizations have exposure to fewer of these types of programs, so they may have less frame of reference to evaluate the program,” he said. “It’s also possible that smaller organizations just do a better job of [training and development]. If large organizations have a corporate group developing these training and development programs, which there’s some possible evidence [for] in the survey, that may seem less relevant to [executives’] specific situations.
“With a smaller employer, it may well be that these internally developed programs are more customized and specific to the needs of the different departments or units.”
The survey also showed that most respondents believe that senior executives — the CEO, president, CLO, head of human resources and head of leader development — in their organizations spend less than 25 percent of their time on leadership development activities. While this may not be surprising for the CEO and president, it is for the other positions, Emery said.
According to the survey, 66 percent of the respondents who have a head of human resources, 54 percent of the respondents who have a CLO and 43 percent of the respondents who have a head of leader development believe that less than a quarter of that individual’s time is spent on leadership development.
“Even in a position that we would think of as being dedicated primarily to leadership development, the perception is they’re not spending a lot of their time doing leadership development activities,” Emery said. “My initial reaction is that it is probably because many executives [those surveyed] feel that a lot of their time is not spent participating in training and development activities.”
Based on a correlation analysis of the survey results, the amount of time an executive spends on leadership development was positively related to firm performance. This was particularly true for the chief learning officer and, to a lesser extent, the head of leader development and the CEO.
“I think [that] is a very intriguing finding because it would suggest that if organizations have their senior executives spending more time doing leader development, their performance may in fact be better,” Emery said.
Lastly, in the survey, the skills that were rated as most important were associated with credibility. They include promoting an ethical environment, acting with authenticity, interpreting the competitive environment and developing trust. Emery suggests honing in on these skills if learning is disconnected from the leaders’ needs.
“One suggestion I could offer based on these results is to look at what are the skills that people believe are most important for the executives and find ways to assess and then develop those skills,” he said.Filed under: Leadership Development