Leadership Development and Jumping Out of Airships

by : Brent Filson

A German silent film melodrama depicts an airship bombing London during World War I. Lit up by searchlights and strafed by fighters, the crippled airship loses altitude as the captain frantically jettisons dispensable gear to lighten weight. Eventually, the only weight left is human. So the captain orders members of the crew overboard. A grisly scene unfolds as the airmen, one by one, without parachutes, step up to the hatch, salute the captain and the first mate, then jump to their deaths. Lightened, the airship returns safely to Germany.

That scene is not a relic. It's happening in corporations frequently these days, clearly not as fact but metaphor. Companies, shot up in the cross fires of increasingly competitive markets, must lighten their loads to get earnings' growth buoyancy. The captains are jettisoning all but the indispensable employees. Commonly, one of the first functions to be ordered out is the training function -- in particular, leadership training or leadership development.

Many company heads view such training as dispensable as the airship crew in the melodrama.

Yet leadership isn't dispensable to business success. It's absolutely indispensable. Good leaders are far more important to the long term success of companies than good products. All organizations that fail to get, keep, and develop good leaders eventually founder. This isn't a secret. Most leaders know this.

Here's the secret: The fact that leadership development is viewed as dispensable is not the captain's making. It's the crew's making. The blame lies with the people in charge of the leadership development. They simply have not defined leadership development in indispensable ways for results. Sure, they have defined such development for training results but not for the results that really count, business results.

And when training people focus on training results not business results, they are always put at the front when the superfluous are told to line up to leap.

What is leadership but results -- not training results, business results. If leaders are not getting their business results, they are not leading. Results can be defined in many ways, productivity, operating efficiencies, sales growth, cost reductions, etc., but leadership development has no real value unless it is helping the leaders get those results.

Here are two simple ways to position your role to notably increase your value to your company.

1. Define results.

Forget about training results. Forget about training objectives. They're dispensable gear. Throw them overboard. What are the business results of the leaders you are developing? If you are dealing with people in manufacturing, then focus on having your development programs help improve operating efficiencies. If you have sales people in those programs, focus on their getting increased sales results within a certain time after they complete your program. Whoever has signed up for your programs, challenge them to use the tools you give them to get results short and long term.

For instance, at the beginning of your programs, ask participants, "What results do you have to get? And what are the most important challenges you have in getting them?"

Then bring them the tools to help them get those results. What they learn is worthless unless it is tied to what is most valuable in their jobs and careers. It's worse than worthless, it's a downright stumbling block since that learning demands that they spend their time away from pursuing their real job objectives.

2. Measure those results.

There is no value in business without measurements. Trainers who ignore this truth are put in the line before the open hatch when the company starts going down. Those trainers typically show their value by demonstrating the cost-effectiveness of their programs.

Cost-effective, baloney! I don't know of any organization where "cost-effective" ultimately doesn't mean "cheap." Cost-effectiveness is the worst way to position leadership development programs. Cost-effective programs are the least valuable programs of all. Once we start defining our programs by how cheap they are, we show that we don't understand leadership or development -- and so cheapen our value to the company.

Don't make leadership programs inexpensive. Make them expensive! -- expensive to the company if those programs are not instituted. We can only show their true importance by demonstrating the hard, measured, business-focused results participants achieve after taking the programs.

At the end of your sessions, have participants write a "value received" letter in which they detail the hard measured results that they intend to get when they use your leadership tools.

Follow up 35-days later to insure they have gotten those results or are about to get them.

If participants in a leadership course don't receive an R.O. I. that is at least five to ten times greater than the investment they made in that course, give them their money back. And why not? If they can't get big increases in their hard, measured results, it's the course's fault. It hasn't helped them develop as leaders. Without results, leadership has no meaning.

Leadership development is too important to be demeaned by having it fulfill training objectives. Enhance its importance by having it fulfill business objectives. In doing so, we will change the scenario on our metaphorical airship. Instead of ordering the crew out, the captain will say, "We can't afford to lose this crew member. Stay here! First mate, jump!"

2004 © The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

PERMISSION TO REPUBLISH: This article may be republished in newsletters and on web sites provided attribution is provided to the author, and it appears with the included copyright, resource box and live web site link. Email notice of intent to publish is appreciated but not required: mail to: brent@actionleadership.com