How to Get Seriously Significant ROI from Leadership Development

By Heather Campbell

My last blog post was a bit of a black cloud, as I explored just how poor the ROI in leadership development typically is.

But I did promise a ray of sunshine to follow. And that’s exactly what this post is all about.

I’m going to share with you one of the key ways we help our clients get seriously significant ROI on their investment in developing their leaders’ communication skills.

I want you to benefit from our experience over the last 25 years.

So, if you want to get real change in the way your leaders communicate, don’t begin with skills development.

You see, when we develop our communication, we’re not really developing skills at all – we’re changing deeply embedded habits. Ones that have been developing since our earliest days.

Trying to layer new skills on top of habits that run counter to those skills simply doesn’t work.

In fact, what you end up with is knowledge of the skill that should be applied, but lack of ability to apply it.

As an example, a leader I’ve been coaching recently really needed – and wanted – to develop his communication ability. One of the areas we were working on was asking questions.

On the face of it, simple.

He’s an intelligent man and actually already knows all the good practice around questioning.

The different types of questions to ask, why it’s important to ask questions and so on.

He’s even really good at asking questions in a theoretical situation – but, put him in a real-life situation…

He clams up.

Why? Because, as a child, he was taught that it is rude to ask questions and was scolded when he did so.

Now, he knows this makes no sense as an adult. He knows what he should do.

But to be able to apply that, he needs to first change the thinking that drives the habit.

So the real focus has to be on building self-awareness first, then building the new thinking that allows you to change the habit, and so apply the skill.

And he’s not alone.

One of the first activities we do when we are running leadership workshops around any aspect of communication is to ask people to list what good communication looks and sounds like.

They always get a comprehensive list – and it’s always spot on.

And they always agree that they actually do all those good communication things – just not all the time. And often, not when it really matters.

So, the real secret to developing leadership communication isn’t actually about ‘teaching’ leaders what to do and ‘training’ them in the related skills.

It’s actually about helping them understand why they don’t apply what they know, every time – and how to overcome that.

There’s one particular barrier that impacts us all, and is the primary driver of all poor communication habits.

I share more about the real barrier to communicating well in my September webinar.


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