Why do US companies alone spend almost $14 billion annually on leadership development? Colleges and universities offer hundreds of degree courses on leadership, and the cost of customized leadership-development offerings from a top business school can reach $150,000 a person.

The reason is pretty straightforward. Leadership is the single biggest factor that determines organizational success. When upward of 500 executives were asked to rank their top human-capital priorities, almost two-thirds of the respondents identified leadership development as their number-one concern. Unfortunately, there is overwhelming evidence that the abundance of books, articles, seminars, conferences, and TED-like talks purporting to have the answers are delivering disappointing results. According to a recent Fortune survey, only 7 percent of CEOs believe their companies are building effective global leaders, and just 10 percent said that their leadership-development initiatives have a clear business impact. This is a very disappointing return on investment.

If you were able to tease out the CEO comments from just technology-based organizations, the results would be even worse. Leading and managing scientists and engineers in science and technology-based organizations is one of the most difficult leadership challenges (learn more).

Henry Mintzberg comments in his book, Management, “Managers are more than decision makers, they are facilitators, builders of culture, analysts, and doers. The effective manager achieves a dynamic balance among all of the above. You can’t learn management in a classroom. Trying to teach management to someone who has never managed is like trying to teach psychology to someone who has never met another human being. Managing consists of three poles; art (vision), science (analysis) and craft (experience). You just learn analysis in MBA school”.

There are thousands of leadership development instructors with varying degrees of competence ranging from excellent to poor. But when you factor in experience, especially with leading scientists and engineers, the list of qualified experts that have both the art and craft as well as the teaching skills narrows considerably.

If you want to increase the likelihood that your leadership development program is highly effective, you should have convincing answers to the following 5 questions.

1.   Have you ever led a technology-based organization and what was your track record of performance?

Teaching leadership from a textbook is no substitute for having led a technology-based organization, period. The cultures of technology-based organizations are unique and offer different leadership challenges. Unlike business-oriented staff, the personalities, attributes and motivations of scientists and engineers are not driven by business. For the most part, they are highly skeptical of management, often referring to them as “suits”. For them to listen to and take the advice of a leadership instructor, they need a role model and a mentor; someone who has actually been successful at leading technical teams, projects and organizations.     

2.   Do you have a broad range of experience in managing science and engineering professionals in technology-based organizations?

Developing credibility and rapport with technical professionals is critical to the learning experience and requires both technical and management experience. Leading science and technology-based organizations requires expertise and experience in developing technology platforms; strategic portfolio management; technical marketing and business development; capital intensive financial management; and leading technical staff and projects. Most important, however, is personally relating to scientists and engineers, understanding their culture and background and presenting a positive profile of science and technology-based leadership. Leadership and management concepts need to be reinforced with examples and anecdotes based on real technical experience. For a more in-depth discussion of this topic, read Leading Science and Technology Organizations: Mastering the Fundamentals of Personal, Managerial, and Executive Leadership. 

3.   What are the leadership principles and codified training methodology you teach that underpin the curriculum and how well do they apply to technical staff?

The course curriculum needs to be based on sound management principles, proven practices and in-depth anecdotes and case studies from science and technology-based organizations. Course content should include how technical staff can think strategically and seize multiple organizational opportunities to have an impact; act decisively using a combination of evidence-based data and discernment; and learn continuously to balance the needs of the organization and their professional career. The emphasis should be on the importance of attitude and mindset in changing behaviors with constructive exercises that develop new leadership habits  

4.   How long have you been involved in Leadership training, in what organizations, and how many technical leaders have you trained?

The practice of leadership training is not learned overnight. There is no cookie-cutter approach that works well. There are many different technology-based organizations that have different leadership requirements, industry focus, and unique skill requirements. Situational analysis is required depending on whether the organization is small, medium, or large; growing or shrinking; or entering new markets or acquisitions. Developing a leadership strategy for your organization will depend on the diversity of experience the instructor has with your organizational type.

5.   How can you be sure that your training will raise the level of performance of my technical staff and how can I measure the value you provide? 

Measuring the effectiveness of leadership training programs is controversial. Traditional return on investment (ROI) metrics used for other investments is difficult to apply. Read my blog on ROI to gain some insights on how to develop your own metrics (read the ROI blog). The best data is the percentage of staff promoted into new leadership positions one to two years after training. Before and after 360 evaluations of participants should be expected as well as detailed interviews from their managers. Follow-up is critical to determine effectiveness.

At Graffeo & Associates, we assist organizations with customizing and implementing a comprehensive leadership development framework based on 40 years of experience in managing technology-based organizations.

Review our development programs at http://graffeoandassociates.com/corporate_leadership_training.

Call us at 617-704-6093 to set up a free assessment of your current leadership development program.

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