The history of leadership training likely can be summarized as follows:
Once upon a time, we started to do 'leadership training,' which was mostly a series of lectures on abstractions and philosophies about an imprecise and undefinable quality. One day, we decided to make our leadership development less abstract and more "actionable," so we converted our content into a series of catchy acronyms like GROW, personality inventories like MBTI, and decision-making frameworks like 9-Box. For years, our learners nodded along and politely considered using such tools during their day to day, before they left their training session and went right back to doing things in exactly the same way.
Managers suffer from framework fatigue and acrostic apathy, conditions that we can only cure by jettisoning models and frameworks from our leadership development programs.
Frameworks and models fail for two reasons. First, they aren't applicable to a specific enough task. In their "scalability," we lose track of why we would want to use them in the first place. Second, it's unclear how we might apply them to the development of a specific skill. How would we use a personality inventory if our task is to manage engineers? Why would we use a coaching framework if our top priority was to lead a team of financial analysts? Frameworks and models exist for their apparently wide usability. Yet because of their wide usability, it's unclear what we should use them for.
But there is another way.
Our task as leadership developers is not to build programs around models like DiSC or Enneagram.
Our task is first to understand the skills our leaders need to succeed, then to isolate tools for the development of these skills.
A tool is that which can be concretely and meaningfully applied to the completion of a specific task. Whereas a framework is defined by its versatility, a tool is defined by its singular ability to be repeatedly used for a clear purpose. The solution to framework fatigue is to ensure that we don't use frameworks: we only use tools.
Contrast this to many contemporary leadership development programs, which attempt to build costly and resource-intensive programs around frameworks like Strengths Finder 2.0 or True Colors. Each of these frameworks could be used as a tool. If leaders identify career planning as a skill need, Strengths Finder 2.0 becomes a viable tool. If leaders identify team facilitation as a skill need, True Colors becomes viable as well. But all too often, we begin with the framework, we don't clarify its relationship to specific skills, and we end up wasting time.
I once knew a leadership developer that was attempting to build the coaching skills of several customer support managers. They had read about the GROW model of coaching, but rather than simply training their leaders on the model, they found a way to connect it to a specific skill: holding regular 1:1 check-ins with direct reports.
The leadership developer worked collaboratively with their managers to develop a new template for employee 1:1s, a template based on the coaching questions found within the GROW model. After holding a brief kickoff training and launching the new 1:1 template, the leadership developer continued to meet with the managers to understand the extent to which leaders applied GROW. They built a team of successful, committed workplace coaches - not because they trained anybody on a coaching framework, but because they identified needed skills and provided a tool that perfectly aligned to that skill.
So let's stop subsidizing the Gallup corporation by mindlessly purchasing Strengths Finder. Let's start to identify what skills our leaders need. It's only then that we can turn our frameworks into tools. It's only then that our leadership training will cease to annoy people.
In the next blog post, the third of this series, we'll turn to the third problem of leadership development: falling for the latest trends while losing sight of one's unique context.