Earlier this week, I got a call from an HR Manager of a major European industry group: Our managers went through great and very expensive international leadership programs. They really enjoyed the trainings and the feedback was excellent. There is just one problem: the quality of leadership has not improved at all – on the contrary –  as our employee surveys show. This is deeply dissatisfying! We are looking for something different, some development approach that will help our colleagues to deal with their daily challenges in leading complexity.

Many organizations are realizing the limitations of their current leadership development programs. Nevertheless, they still stick with them, perhaps for a felt lack of alternatives or the anxiety of trying new approaches.  While it might be still very useful to train future leaders on basic people-and-task management tools and techniques, it will not support the kind of leadership necessary to master the social and technological complexity of today’s messy reality.

Organizational challenges call for people with a clear and calm mind, with the ability to inspire and empower others and to create a context for people to develop their full potential. And the strength to give clear feedback and directions if needed as well as integrating perspectives and turning them into actions.

People are inspired by WHO you are when you lead rather than what you say and do. So, the development of leadership is an inside job.

A different approach: from training to learning mindset

I think we should switch from a “training” mindset to a “learning” mindset. Many organizations provide training environments but not the needed conditions for learning:

  1. A safe space to try, fail, reflect and adapt. What works better is to create an environment of co-learning, including and starting with the Top-Leadership Team.
  2. 2. Learning needs a purpose: what do we want/need to learn and why? What is the reason for making the effort? What is the shared vision that attracts learning? Training comes into play, when a specific skill is lacking and people WANT to be trained in it, the moment, people ask for it is the right time to offer specific trainings.. because they feel they could benefit and it would make their own lives better.  Leadership Development works best in combination with business transformation. and not as a carved out program in an artificial Business School environment.

Whenever we are invited to work with leadership teams we don’t talk about leadership at all; we focus on the person using tools (such as language and behavior) and not the tools themselves. Together with (future) leaders we find new and more powerful ways to interact among themselves and with others.

Together, we create spaces where they can openly talk, reflect, practice and meditate together, addressing all kinds of personal, not private/intimate issues. We help to refine and clear the mind, and we stick with these groups for a long time, just reflecting and talking about their observations, learnings, successes and failures. We watch them growing and unfolding their potentials and hold this space over a longer period of time, until a new level of power has stabilized.

This is for sure not THE answer, but the way we go and see people grow.


Leadership is not an object to buy or to have – it is the result of a process of reflection, introspection, awareness and self-consciousness

Related articles:

HBR Why Leadership trainings fails and what to do about it?

The end of change management as we know it..

Stop changing – start being

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