ATD Blog

4 Reasons to Delay Leadership Training

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

It does not always make sense to conduct leadership training. Even though we deeply believe in the value of developing leaders, there are many valid reasons to delay leadership training. The value and timing of leadership development, like every other business investment, must be compared to and aligned with shifting business priorities and initiatives.

So, given the speed of change today, what makes sense?

Impetus to Improve Performance

Each year, leaders tell us it gets more challenging to succeed because they face bigger goals, increased complexity, and tighter budgets. At the same time employees must deal with higher performance expectations, an increased pace of change, and the need to do more with less. Combine this with the fact that most companies report growing leadership gaps and you can see why investments in leadership development continue to outpace other areas of development.

Impact of Leadership Training

The good news is that we have measured more than 800 training projects and know that leadership behavior and performance change is possible. In fact, effective leaders grow revenue 58 percent faster, satisfy customers 3.2 to 1, and engage employees 16.8 to 1, compared to their less effective peers.

Reasons to Postpone Leadership Training

Because training is just one avenue to improve leadership effectiveness, there are certainly situations where it makes sense to delay leadership development. Here are the top four reasons from our clients:

1. Lack of Strategic Clarity. You should postpone leadership training if your overall corporate strategy is not clear enough, believable enough, or implementable enough in the eyes of your leaders. It is hard enough to change leadership skills and behaviors. It is almost impossible if everyone is not on the same page in terms of the critical few strategies required to meet your objectives.

2. Unhealthy or Misaligned Workplace Culture. Think of your culture as how things really get done—the way people think, behave, and act. And culture matters. In fact, our organizational alignment research found cultural factors account for up to 40 percent of the difference between high- and low-performing companies.


Before you embark on leadership training, make sure that your leaders are engaged enough to want to take their performance to the next level. Then make sure that the way your leaders behave with respect to customers, employees, decisions, information, risks, and results matches your strategy. Do not let gaps between your strategy, leadership expectations, and cultural norms provide excuses for missing performance targets.

3. You Are Not Ready to Reinforce the New Leadership Skills and Behaviors. Our research found that any training, including well-designed training, without the proper reinforcement only changes the behavior of one in five participants on average. To ensure new leadership knowledge, skills, and attitudes transfer to the job, you must explicitly invest in:

  • Support resources. Make sure your leaders have the necessary time, information, tools, technology, support processes, and structures to behave in the new way.
  • Reinforcement. Make sure you provide and align success metrics, incentives, consequences, and recognition with the newly desired leadership skills and behaviors.
  • Coaching. Our research shows that leaders who receive frequent coaching outperform their peers 4 to 1. Invest in coaching if you do not want your training investment to dwindle.

4. You Need to Rationalize Your Leadership Team. While no one can excel at everything, we do believe that anyone can improve in almost any field. We absolutely know leaders can change and improve their performance. With that being said, if you are convinced that some on your leadership team will never have the right attitude or aptitude to succeed in the new way, it may make sense to let those people go before you begin training.

Bottom Line

If you want to delay leadership training until everything is perfectly aligned, you will never provide your leaders with the skills they need to be successful. There will always be change and uncertainty and leadership skills take time to develop.
To get the most from your leadership training investment, make sure that your strategy is clear enough, your culture is aligned enough, your leadership team has enough of the right people, and that you are willing to reinforce the new skills and behaviors.

About the Author

Tristam Brown is chairman and CEO of LSA Global, where he is responsible for the overall strategic direction and management of the company and client services. He has more than 25 years of consulting and management experience. Prior to joining LSA Global, he served as vice president of organizational strategies at Proxicom, an e-business consulting and development company, where he ran human resources, organizational development, recruiting, training, and internal communications. He also previously he served as chairman of the National Outward Bound Professional Committee and director of Outward Bound Professional for the West Coast, where he ran the corporate leadership training and consulting division for Fortune 1000 Corporations. He currently serves on the boards of Outward Bound California, the Chief Learning Office Business Intelligence Board, and Advertising Audit & Risk Management (AARM).

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