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With all this leadership development, why are bad CEOs still about?
The corporate world can expend a great deal of time and money focused on the topic of leadership development. Whether concerned with preparing fledgling talent for greater responsibility or updating the skills of an established leader, the concept of developing leadership capabilities is firmly entrenched on the list of corporate concerns. People are sent on development programmes, thousands are spent on MBAs, and mentors are found to share experience.


But if leadership development is really the boardroom talking point it appears to be, why are there still ineffectual and downright poor chief executives out there? With numerous leadership models filling best-seller lists and packed audiences paying a fortune to listen to management “gurus" – along with the thoughts of commentators in columns not unlike this one – surely CEOs should be swimming in good advice about the right way to do things?


Picture, for example, a chief executive whose rampaging, unpredictable behaviour has left employees unsure of what is expected of them, and en¬tirely disengaged from a company that shows no evident strategic purpose. Or consider the example of a manager who has singularly failed to connect and communicate with their reports, and yet rails against inaction and underperformance from their team.


In both circumstances, there is surely a screamingly self-evi¬dent solution that would dramatically improve the situation.


Different leadership models might advise distinctions in approach, but most would be likely to converge around the need for the former leader to demonstrate greater consistency in their actions, and the latter manager to concentrate a good deal more on their approach to communicating.


However, while the solution might be obvious, the fact is that there is no necessary link between the possession of knowledge, good advice or the “right answer", and the actual drive to put that information into action.


With leadership, there is no end of examples of chief executives who can fully understand and articulate a correct course of action, and yet still act other¬wise.


What is missing every time is the will to put their understanding into practice.


Seen in this light, the fictional leaders from our examples are not failing in leadership from a position of straight ignorance. They don’t require more outpourings of cash to train them in a new leadership style that will magically transform them into winning chief executives. What they require is a behavioural change to develop the will to translate everything they have learnt and understood about fitness to lead into actual practice.


And this is important not only for their own leadership, but also for the organisational culture at large. I have noted in earlier columns that throughout an organisation, a chief executive plays an enormous role in setting the tone of how the business approaches every task. There is, therefore, an enormous leap forward in corporate culture when a CEO is visibly and effectively acting on the things they truly need to be acting upon – applying their skills and knowledge in a way that leads towards success rather than inactivity.


Of course, this doesn’t negate the need for all of those leadership models and “thought leaders". Leaders still need advice and information on hand to pick the right course of action or approach in a particular instance. It also doesn’t mean that a company is effectively powerless to affect change when a CEO possesses the “right answers", but nevertheless chooses to ignore them.


Behaviours, like skills, are capable of being augmented and melded over time, so it is not beyond the reach of even the most dyed-in-the-wool leader to drop a destructive behavioural trait in favour of the will to act on what they already know to be right. They may require guidance or the sharp shock of being shown the true effect of their behaviour on their organisation, but change can certainly be achieved.


Ultimately, the cost of leadership training and development can be substantial, even as it pays back handsomely in terms of improved performance. At the same time, the effort is largely wasted if companies, and leaders themselves, don’t also have the will to make things happen.


Ahmad Badr is chief executive of Abu Dhabi University Know¬ledge Group


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