Leadership Development: 10% of Organizations Offer it to Everyone

Illustration by istockphoto.com
Illustration by istockphoto.com

We get a lot of surveys here at TLNT, and you generally see the best of the ones we get. Some are really insightful, some pretty obvious, and others, well, they make you just scratch your head and wonder what it all means.

This one falls in that last category, at least when it comes to one of its findings.

The American Management Association (AMA), in association with the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), asked nearly 1,000 global organizations this question in their 2010 AMA/i4cp Developing Successful Global Leaders Study:

What level of employee in your organization participates in your most high-profile leadership development programs? (select all that apply)

Here are the surprising results:

  • 64.6 percent — Director;
  • 62.5 percent — Vice President;
  • 61.8 percent — Targeted high potential;
  • 51.2 percent — Manager;
  • 45.3 percent — Executive Vice President;
  • 9.5 percent — Open to anyone in the organization;
  • 2.1 percent — Not applicable.

Only one thing in here really surprised me, and it may have surprised you too. That is, nearly 10 percent of the global organizations surveyed offer their high-profile leadership development programs to ANYONE (and one would assume everyone) in their workforce?

Most training focused on high potentials

“To be sure, the great majority of organizations focus their development resources on high potential managers presumed to be headed for positions of responsibility,” said Sandi Edwards, Senior Vice President for AMA Corporate Learning Solutions, in a press release that went with the survey. “But we found that an unexpected percentage of employers offer leadership development across the board. They may feel the policy addresses the growing demand by individuals for opportunities to learn and grow, and that it thereby boosts their commitment while also bolstering overall organizational performance.”

Although most leadership programs are relatively exclusive, Edwards said, there are almost always other kinds of development opportunities more widely available. “And those who distinguish themselves in such programs may in turn be targeted for leadership ones. Everyone can’t be on the ‘all star” team, but everyone can strive to get there.

That’s good advice to be sure, but I still wonder about the nearly 10 percent of organizations that let anyone in the organization participate in the most high-profile leadership development program. Is this simply some statistical quirk, or does it touch on some new leadership training trend being quietly developed in a handful of really cutting edge and forward thinking companies?

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Is there a reason for this?

I’ve dug through the survey report — and there is some really great stuff in there if you are one of those people who get weak in the knees reading about current training and development trends — but really not much more on that 9.5 percent of organizations that offer high level management training to everyone in their workforce.

Now, I am not a training and development expert, so perhaps there is some other reason for this that escapes me, but it was an intriguing finding in this survey that left me wanting to know more — about the companies that did this, about the reasons behind this strategy, about what they know that so many others don’t.

If you think you know the answer, please let me know, because this may be the one of the greatest workforce development practices ever utilized, or just a glitch in the data that has been horribly over-analyzed by someone like me who doesn’t know any better.

I’m hoping it is the former rather than the latter, but I’d love to have someone tell me either way.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


7 Comments on “Leadership Development: 10% of Organizations Offer it to Everyone

  1. John–Many organizations have only one leadership development “program”. Therefore the 10% that said their “high profile” leadership training is available to everyone are simply suggesting that their one program doesn’t have policies that exclude participants based on position level. Not shocking. Nor is it a radical new management technique.


  2. John –
    At the risk of being lengthy, there are a few reasons, from my experience, why Leadership Programs may be offered to everyone in an org (regardless of peoples biases or agreement):
    – Size of an organization – If it is a small company with a wide array of leadership opportunities, it may be more beneficial to train everyone regardless of logic.
    – Availability of other courses are not enough – this idea leads some organizations to be more specific and inclusive to the entire org.
    – Costs – For some programs that are put in place it is essential for all individuals to be trained to stay consistent with what that organization is trying deliver. It also may be more cost effective to pay for everyone to go through a training (per person cost for entire org is cheaper then per person cost of smaller # of employees), whether it the LD is provided internally or externally.
    – Succession Planning – There are organizations that simply do not know who the high potentials are so they put everyone through a program to identify those that may rise and those that fall.
    – Fear of Backlash – some department/decision-makers implimenting the programs may not feel comfortable with tying it to one group or dealing with those indiviudals which feel that “I should be in this program”
    – Definition of Leadership – for many it boils down to their definition of Leadership. The definition varies. So while one organizations view of LD may be high level and strategic, another company may take the approach of “Everyone is a Leader” so they open up that training to everyone. Since the definition varies then the actual delivery and view of who recieves it varies.

    While many times the size of a company or availability of resources to pay for all to go through it will play a factor, I am with the thought that programs should be geared to an objective. This objective and end result then should help decide the audience that takes part.

    **breathe** ok I’m done. Hope that added some value or insight.


    1. Ben: Thanks for your insight into this. I immediately thought that “size of the organization” might have been a big factor as well, but the survey didn’t really give any supporting numbers to follow that conclusion. Your “succession planning” point is an interesting one as well, and there is a certain CYA quality in it as well, so I could see that being a real reason for this as well.

  3. Greg: You are probably right on the money with your analysis, but one can always hope for some breakthrough, cutting-edge management technique, can’t we?

  4. Here’s a thought, triggered by the paragraph w/ Ms. Edwards’s quote: “And those who distinguish themselves in such programs may in turn be targeted for leadership ones. Everyone can’t be on the ‘all star” team, but everyone can strive to get there.”

    Programs work better when people self-select into them and people learn better when they have a need/reason behind it. Those who seek learning opportunities likely have a shared characteristic that makes them a high potential/high performer. Making the high profile program available to everyone could very well be a way to select those who have the drive, desire, and ability to take on more responsibility.

  5. I certainly have no knowledge on this matter but it seems that maybe they offer these programs to all in the organization because there is some possible leadership potential in everybody in the eyes of these organizations. If anything it at least gives the worker a sense that the company cares about their place in that workplace, resulting in better work performence from all. But like I said, I’m only guessing.

  6. I concur with much of what benjaminmccall wrote. I want to elaborate more on the definitional reason. I think as the definition of leadership evolves to reflect the reality of how progress gets made on the important (all stakeholders contribute through leading and following), leadership development evolves as well. In my work, I am seeing more and more decision makers choosing to expand their leadership development in step with this new understanding.

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