Leadership Development: What Happens Between Class and the Job?

Charlie Martin is an experienced executive coach and leadership development facilitator.

There are billions of dollars being spent every year on leadership development. It doesn’t seem to matter whether we look at the public of private sector leadership development and application seem hard to connect. The intention is usually there to connect the developmental investment with the application back on the job but doing that seems elusive.

Perhaps there is a disconnect between leadership development and application.  As an Executive Coach and Consultant, I have facilitated many hours of leadership development training, or Executive Coaching focused on leadership development. In most of these cases, there was an intention to connect development and application but it wasn’t happening.

It has become obvious to me that to make the connection between leadership development and application there must be more than intent. There must be a process in place that requires follow up by leaders throughout the organization to assure that the connection is made. Most organizations don’t decide to spend resources on leadership development just to check a box. There is usually a performance improvement goal of some kind that the leadership development effort is designed to improve.

If leadership development is designed to facilitate high performance there must be some way to assure application so the resources, both financial and human are not wasted. Is it possible that developing leaders and measuring the application of the development efforts does not flow through to the performance management/development process?

In some cases, leadership development efforts may begin without full consideration of the performance objectives of the program. In other words, the development effort is not directly related to achieving the organizational goals. I suspect that occasionally there may be some budget dollars available and they must be spent or be lost and programs are designed and implemented without a direct connection to an organizational result. Hopefully this is a rare case if it happens at all.

All leadership development efforts should be designed and implemented in support of the overall organization plans and goals. If the process starts there the leadership development programs will be designed to provide additional tools for the operating management team so they can achieve their goals in support of the organization goals. Initiating leadership development this way may take longer and it certainly requires additional thought and collaboration, however it will have a much stronger positive impact to the organization.

In some cases, leadership development efforts may begin without full consideration of the performance objectives of the program.


I have found that many times the leadership development process has been designed with features that support application back on the job but the processes are not followed as the development goes through different organizational levels. What is happening in these cases? One possibility is that the senior leaders who created the process to allow application back on the job get busy with other things and don’t follow up with the required frequency. It only takes lack of follow up through one organizational level to send a message that the features that have been built into the leadership development process to support application back on the job are not a requirement and they quickly dissipate as the process goes through the organization. Unfortunately, senior leaders get busy and the call of the urgent overcomes the value of the important and things like leadership development which are in progress lose their importance.

What do senior leaders need to do to assure that the intended application features built into a leadership development program are implemented? It’s clear to me that the only way application of what is learned in a leadership development program will get applied back on the job is to include this as part of the ongoing performance reviews. This assumes that reviews are done at least quarterly and are taken seriously.

Leaders must find ways to talk with their teams about how they are noticing the positive impacts of the leadership development efforts. Once the message gets out that the boss was noticing and talking about the how the training was helping the team achieve its goals it becomes more important and more members of the leadership team notice and take positive action.

Leadership development and the application of what is learned is critical to the success of any organization and is critically important to a service organization.

It’s time to include leadership development and application as part of the strategic direction and overall goals of the organization. Taking this step early will be more cost effective and will go a long way toward connecting leadership development and application.

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