Why We Aren’t Developing Leaders


“Study after study, including my own, tells us the qualities that leaders in today’s world need are intuitive, dynamic, collaborative, and grounded in here-and-now emotional intelligence.” – Deborah Rowland

unknownIf you want to touch a nerve in me start talking about how we develop leaders in our field. For the most part, we don’t. We spend too much time in talking to the heads of our aspirants (storing information) and less time to their hearts (empathy) and watching them doing the job of a leader (practice).

It is often said that the longest journey in a person’s life is only 18 inches in length — that’s the average distance between our brains and our hearts!

For years, I went around the country for the IACP teaching “Quality Leadership” to aspiring police leaders. Most of them loved the teaching. But did it reach their heart? Probably not.

Finally, I gave up. I said I would only teach the course to a police department if they agreed to invite me back in six months to see how they were working on actually changing their leadership style and practicing continuous improvement. I had few takers! Deborah Rowland, in the following article makes the point as what needs to be done — for leadership development to be experiential!

Now as an academic, I am in the process of developing a curriculum to teach leadership to senior criminal justice students at my university. It’s new course that engages not only what I learned in the past but also what is going on in the corporate world today.

I also have come to realize that our emotional intelligence is as important as the skills we try and develop as leaders. If you can’t connect, you cannot lead!

As a subscriber to the Harvard Business Review for many years I came across this recent article by Deborah Rowland that pulled all this together and answered the quintessential question: “Why leadership development isn’t developing leaders.”

Rowland has led change in major global organizations and been in top-level corporate leadership.  She is the co-author of Sustaining Change: Leadership That Works (Wiley, 2008) and the author of the forthcoming book, Still Moving.

Why Leadership Development Isn’t Developing Leaders (some key excerpts)

By Deborah Rowland


“Too many business leaders today are out of touch with the employees they lead. Edelman estimates that one in three employees doesn’t trust their employer — despite the fact that billions are spent every year on leadership development. Part of the problem: Our primary method of developing leaders is antithetical to the type of leadership we need (my emphasis).

“The vast majority of leadership programs are set curricula delivered through classroom-taught, rationally based, individual-focused methods. Participants are taken out of their day-to-day workplaces to be inspired by expert faculty, work on case studies, receive personal feedback, and take away the latest leadership thinking (and badges for their résumés). Yet study after study, including my own, tells us the qualities that leaders in today’s world need are intuitive, dynamic, collaborative, and grounded in here-and-now emotional intelligence (my emphasis).

“The mismatch between leadership development as it exists and what leaders actually need is enormous and widening. What would work better?

Over the last 16 years I have carried out research into how leaders create change, and I’ve worked in the change leadership field for 25 years in multinational corporations. Over that time, I’ve come to appreciate four factors that lie at the heart of good, practical leadership development:

  • Making it experiential;
  • Influencing participants’ ‘being,’ not just their ‘doing’;
  • Placing it into its wider, systemic context; and
  • Enrolling faculty who act less as experts and more as Sherpas.

+ “Make it experiential. Neuroscience shows us that we learn most (and retain that learning as changed behavior) when the emotional circuits within our brain are activated. Visceral, lived experiences best activate these circuits; they prompt us to notice both things in the environment and what’s going on inside ourselves… 

+ “Influence participants’ ‘being,’ not just their ‘doing…’ I have found that leaders need to work on the quality of their inner game, or their capacity to tune into and regulate their emotional and mental states, before they can hope to develop their outer game, or what it is they need to actually do. So leadership development must start by working on the inner game. It’s very hard for leaders to have courageous conversations about unhelpful reality until they can regulate their anxiety about appearing unpopular and until they’ve built their systemic capacity to view disturbance as transformational, not dysfunctional…

+ “Place development into its wider, systemic context… I have seen the ‘parallel universe’ syndrome, in which leaders attend courses that promulgate certain mindsets and ways of working only to go back to the workplace and find that the office (and especially top leadership) is still stuck in old routines…

Recently I directed a three-year change intervention in which the top 360 leaders of one company (including the board) attended a leadership development program in 10 waves of participants, with 36 leaders in each. Given the uncertainty in their industry, it was impossible for senior management to know what their long-term business strategy or organizational model would look like. However, the CEO did know that all he could do in such a dynamic context was build new capacities for agility and change in his organization. Each wave of participants joined the leadership development at a different stage of the company’s change journey, and at each stage we used the development experience not just for personal training but also as a vehicle to import and work with the shifting systemic dynamics of the company through time — helping them move through the ‘change curve…’

+ “Enroll faculty who act less as experts and more as Sherpas. Finally, you have to attend to the required skills and characteristics of the people who lead these programs.

“In the above example, we found that no single provider could provide a facility that was holistic enough. We needed a faculty group with egos not wedded to any particular leadership methodology or school of thinking and who could work skillfully with live group dynamics, creating psychological safety in the room for participants to take personal risks and push cultural boundaries. We required the educational equivalent of Sherpas, people able to carry part of the load in order to guide participants toward their personal and organizational summits…

“Make no mistake, attending to all four of these factors is a sizable challenge. Whether you are a corporate or business school leader, a head of leadership and organizational development, or a senior business leader sponsoring and attending leadership development programs, take a long, hard look at how you are currently delivering leadership development. The price of failed leadership is already too high for us not to attend to the process through which we develop it.”

[Read the full article HERE in the Harvard Business Review.]

  • If we are not going to invest in our future leaders, train, develop, and “grow” them, I am afraid American policing will never get out of the rut they now find themselves.


  1. Well, if organizations can’t or won’t develop their rank and file workforce, it will make sense that many of the will not invest in their leaders.


  2. It seems to me that departments are committed to more empathy for the community, yet they don’t practice that with their own officers. Additionally, rather than hiring empathetic people, they hire people who know how to beat the hiring checklist and then try to teach them how to recreate empathy; basically people that are not empathetic but pretending to be.


  3. Officer Meraz, I doubt that departments are committed to having more empathy for the community; otherwise, they would be hiring empathetic people who could get along with the communities that they patrol.


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