Put Leadership Training on the Front Burner

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The recession prompted corporations to cut leadership programs, and the deficiency will show up—in their bottom lines

By Lynn Taylor
When organizations worldwide took belt-tightening measures after the recession officially began in December 2007, training in general was on the chopping block—and along with it went leadership training. In a 2008 study conducted by learning service firm Expertus, 48 percent of the 84 corporate and government training professionals surveyed reported they were slashing their 2009 training budgets. That was up from 41 percent the previous year.

As the recession progressed, organizations continued cutting these programs. A 2009 article in The National Law Journal noted: “Leadership consultants said that firms are reducing leadership training, scaling back earlier training commitments.”

Now that the economy is showing signs of strength, it’s time to bring back leadership training.

Keeping Weeds in Check

A protracted lack of training is much like a neglected garden; ultimately, weeds stifle and choke organizational growth. Over the past three years, job insecurity and economic uncertainty have dampened morale. Add to that the lack of leadership training and cohesive guidance from top management, and you have a double drain on productivity.

During lean times, managers have been in crisis mode, not taking the time to motivate or follow the corporate vision, but rather maintaining the status quo instead. People skills have fallen to last place on the priority list, and the company vision broadcast in 2006 is stated nowhere but on some dusty rolled-up poster.

Now imagine how a new leadership training program, even a modest one, can provide much-needed manicuring to the untended garden. Your chief executive—the landscape architect—should initiate the effort via a vision of growth and innovation and ultimately, greater profits.

When Results Can Be Immediate

Organizations may have cut funds for training, but they may not be able to afford putting it off forever. Perhaps the myth still exists that leadership training is a costly, time-consuming measure with only long-term gain—when in fact, relatively low-cost measures can reap immediate results.

For example, you could give a one-day workshop on strategic growth initiatives, motivating staff through enhanced communications or improving skills for virtual-team leadership. Sure, this will mean time spent planning the workshop and perhaps money invested in hiring an outside facilitator, but it could contribute to the bottom line in hours. A motivated salesperson, invigorated by a sales manager’s genuine public praise one morning, can easily precipitate a sales spike that afternoon.

Other good subject matter for leadership training sessions includes: implementing career pathing for employees; setting objectives and expectations and monitoring them among staff; delegating tasks to others; team building and creating a sense of community; mentoring and helping teams maximize their potential; and establishing alignment with business and personal goals.

These days, businesses have a segment of employees inspired to work only because they want to keep their jobs. But as employment improves, survival won’t be enough to compel them to leap out of bed in the morning.

A Key to Invigorating Employees

Leaders must know how to motivate their teams to work for mutual success and the larger success of the company. Even with the economy still faltering, more progressive companies are considering restarting leadership training. They recognize it as a wise investment in creating an invigorated workforce.

Researchers from Harvard and McGill universities carried out a six-year global study of companies that sought improved working conditions at all levels of their business and managed to be profitable at the same time. The researchers found that these companies—ranging in size from small outfits of 27 employees to Fortune 50 corporations of 126,00—knew how to support leadership at every level and how to listen to employees.


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