The way I love to start a discussion about leadership is by saying “Leadership Development doesn’t work”. This is indeed surprising as this what  I am passionate about and have invested a lot of time in training.

What doesn’t work is of course not “Leadership“, it is “Development”.

Leadership is like driving

In my country of Switzerland, it is very difficult and costly to learn to drive. You first have to pass a theory exam where you have to demonstrate your knowledge of all the rules. You even need to be able to calculate breaking distances. This requires not only a minimum of 30 to 40 hours of instructor-led practical driving lessons. But that’s not it: If you are only doing these two and not driving on your own between the driving lessons, you are almost set to fail.

Leadership is like driving. It is a complex skill set to “drive” an organisation, its people and, the most difficult, ourselves, all at the same time. We could conclude that leadership is far more complex than driving a car. However, it is surprising that most companies don’t take so seriously. They organise some courses or workshop for one day or two. Sometimes even month-long courses. Nothing wrong with those, they are inspiring, interesting and take you for a while out of daily routine to learn something new.

Why Leadership Development might not work

Harvard Business Review has an amazing article called “Why Leadership Development isn’t developing leaders?”. Their point that this paper is making is that if the organisation doesn’t support you and help implement on a daily basis what you have learned, after 2-3 days you will be back to your own habits.

What is the goal of leadership development for you and your organisation? Is it to collect a nice folder on the bookshelf of your office, to learn something intellectually stimulating, or even be able to display that you have a leadership academy, talent development so that people are attracted to your organisation or company.

It is interesting to notice that what employees complain about most are not the courses, but the fact that their own leaders are not living what has been taught.

Under pressure, we all tend to cut corners and don’t live the standard we would like to see from other people. Like in the military, it is not when you are in a war, that you start learning how your gun works. You learn these habits again and again while not under pressure.

Transformational Leadership

In order to implement the desired organisation culture, we need to impact the behaviour across the entire organisation, at all levels, in what we call “Transformational Leadership”. This is when every manager has to learn, exercise and improve in the long run, the traits of complete leadership. This takes more than a few workshops, it is learning, evaluation, feedback, coaching and mentoring.

Only if done so, the authors of the HBR articles argues, the real value of Leadership Development is reached and business results can be achieved.

Welcome to the exciting world of Transformational Leadership!

Beer, Michael, Magnus Finnström, and Derek Schrader. “Why Leadership Training Fails—and What to Do about It.” Harvard Business Review 94, no. 10 (October 2016): 50–57.
Rowland, Deborah “Why Leadership Development Isn’t Developing Leaders” Harvard Business Review 94, no. 10 (October 2016).


Author of this blog

Joël Vuadens-Chan

Founder & CEO of Swiss Leaders Group, certified trainer, speaker and coach, Executive Director and Member of the President’s Advisory Council of The John Maxwell Team

To discover more about the topics mentioned in this blog:

Published by Joël Vuadens-Chan

I live in Bassersdorf, next to Zurich in Switzerland together with my wife, Olivia, and our two teenage sons and enjoy since 20 years to add value to people. Seeing people discovering their gifts, developing them and starting to make a difference in the society by using is the greatest joy for me. I have been coaching, training and supporting people in several non-profits, as well as in our jobs, and this is almost our second nature. I observed that good leadership is instrumental to the success of not only the employees individually, but also to the success of the team, department and company. After commerce and IT studies I have 25 years of experience in banking, IT and insurances industries, working in Switzerland, UK, part of virtual teams led from USA with frequent trips to USA, Germany and UK, speaking English, French and German, including Swiss German. I have also been serving in the last 20 years in several volunteer leadership functions in non-profit organisations. I have also completed MBA studies with a thesis on revenue-earned social enterprises. Our 2 teenagers are my passion as well and I especially love coaching them and helping them developing their skills and leadership skills. By extension, I love raising young leaders to take their place in the society, using their skills and strength to help others. I understand the complexity of international business life and are passionate to help people, including youth, finding their purpose, skills set and developing as excellent leaders leading teams and organisations that will attract the most skills and capable team members. As an Executive Director and a Member of the President Advisory Council of The John Maxwell Team and Member , I am certified to facilitate, speak, train and coach individuals and groups in the areas of leadership development, professional skills and personal growth. Trained and mentored by John Maxwell and mentors of his world-class faculty, I am equipped with the tools, resources and experience to help you and your team improve your productivity, performance and profitability. Whether you are looking for a facilitator for group workshops, corporate training in leadership, speaking, sales, or coaching skills for your leaders, or a speaker for your next event, I have access to exclusive content that is only available through a certified Executive Director of the John Maxwell Team to help you reach your goals and objectives.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: