The Pendulum Swing of Navigating Transitions: Leadership Training Benefit

Image of Newtons Cradle depicting the Pendulum Swing of Leadership Training.

Jun 5, 2024

The Pendulum Swing

The term "pendulum swing" aptly describes the oscillation that employees experience as they transition between their technical roles and their new management/leadership positions. This constant movement between their original technical skill sets (which can be anything from on-the-tools to engineering to sales) and the new demands of management and leadership is a challenge many face.

This phenomenon is particularly prevalent among new, 'immature' leaders. Even seasoned leaders within operational layers can be caught in this swing.

What's missing?

Millions are spent each year on Leadership Training, so why does it seem to miss the mark, particularly for leaders in transition?

Let's explore the challenge.

The Challenge of Transition

Having worked extensively with frontline leaders, supervisors, and emerging leaders, we often observe that while these individuals excel in their technical abilities, they frequently find themselves thrust into leadership roles needing more support and a clear understanding of what is expected of them.

Where they once focused solely on their tasks, they now must achieve results through and with others. This shift can be a source of significant pain and struggle.

Transitioning from technical roles to leadership positions can be particularly jarring in high-hazard industries.

Employees are accustomed to hands-on work, where their technical skills are paramount. As they move into leadership roles, they must balance these skills with new responsibilities, including managing teams, ensuring compliance with safety regulations, and making strategic decisions.

This transition often leads to a pendulum swing between their comfort zone (technical work) and their new role (leadership).

Experience: Shadow-Coaching Supervisors

In a recent engagement, we were shadow-coaching supervisors at the forefront of the organisation, which was undergoing change. Despite being designated as the first line of the leadership team, these supervisors found themselves confused by the new expectations attached to their titles.

Many had been in their roles for years, but the new designation brought uncharted responsibilities. Unfortunately, these supervisors had never fully realised their potential or effectiveness due to insufficient training and support.

The coaching process provided much-needed support, allowing them to grow into their roles. For many, this was the first support they had received in decades.

The Leadership Training Gap

Ted Bauer's 2015 article highlights a significant issue in leadership development:

  • Most leaders get their first leadership position at 30
  • Most leaders receive their first leadership training at 42

This twelve-year gap is alarming. A lot can happen in twelve years, especially between the ages of 30 and 42. These long periods of neglect often lead to damaged people, resentment, and broken leadership. As individuals move up the leadership ladder, the damage compounds, leading to a cycle of pain and struggle.

When leaders return from training eager to apply their new skills, they often find little opportunity to do so. Their accumulated work pressures them back into old routines, and the cycle continues.

Why Leadership Training Fails

A McKinsey Quarterly article, "Why Leadership Development Programs Fail," discusses the nearly $14 billion spent annually in the US alone on leadership development.

Often quoted, Leadership development is a top priority, yet many programs fail to deliver. The article highlights four common mistakes:

  1. Overlooking Context:  A brilliant leader in one situation may perform poorly in another. This is especially true for newly promoted leaders who need more development support. One-size-fits-all approaches are often ineffective.
  2. Decoupling Reflection from Real Work:  Individuals, especially those who learn by doing, retain only about 10% of their learning from basic off-site training. Even the most engaged leaders need help to transfer new knowledge to the workplace.
  3. Underestimating Mindsets:  Effective leadership often requires behavioural changes. Identifying underlying feelings, thoughts, assumptions, and beliefs is crucial but frequently overlooked in leadership programs.
  4. Failing to Measure Results:  Many companies do not adequately measure the impact of their leadership development investments. Evaluation should be ongoing, measuring behavioural changes over time.

Leadership training and development programs in high-hazard industries often fail for several similar reasons:

  1. Context Matters: Programs that do not consider the specific challenges and contexts of high-hazard industries are unlikely to be effective. Leadership in a refinery is different from leadership on a construction site.
  2. Separating Reflection from Practical Application: Off-site training programs that do not integrate with on-the-job experiences are less effective. Leaders in high-hazard industries must apply their learning in real time to understand its practical implications.
  3. Overlooking Mental Frameworks: Changing deeply ingrained behaviours and mindsets is crucial. Programs that do not address leaders' underlying beliefs and attitudes will struggle to effect real change.
  4. Lack of Follow-Through: The new skills and behaviours learned in training are often lost without ongoing support and reinforcement. Leaders revert to their old ways, and the cycle of ineffective leadership continues.

A few more alarming statistics

Global spending on leadership training has seen significant growth and is expected to continue rising in the coming years. In 2023, the global corporate leadership training market was valued at approximately $33.90 billion. This figure is projected to grow, reaching around $72.65 billion by 2032, indicating a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.95%​ (Fortune Business Insights)​​ (GlobeNewswire).

The increase in spending is driven by the recognition of the crucial role effective leadership plays in an organisation's success. Companies are investing heavily in leadership development programs to enhance the skills of their managers and executives. This trend is particularly prominent in large enterprises, which have complex organisational structures and require efficient leaders at multiple levels​ (Fortune Business Insights).

North America dominates this market, with the U.S. alone spending around $166 billion annually on leadership development programs, accounting for nearly half of the global spending​ (Fortune Business Insights). This high expenditure reflects the emphasis on equipping leaders with the necessary skills to navigate complex business environments and handle ambiguity effectively.

The Role of Coaching in Leadership Training and Development

The McKinsey Quarterly article concludes by emphasising the potential for coaching to impact leadership development significantly. Companies can improve their leadership programs by matching skills and traits to context, embedding development in real work, investigating underlying mindsets, and monitoring impact over time.

Companies can avoid the most common mistakes in leadership development and increase the odds of success by matching specific leadership skills and traits to the context at hand, embedding leadership development in real work, fearlessly investigating the mindsets that underpin behaviour, and monitoring the impact to make improvements over time.

Addressing the Leadership Training Conundrum

At Safety Collaborations, we recognise the critical need for effective leadership development, especially within high-risk, high-hazard industries such as O&G, renewables, marine, transport, rail, and construction.

The Safety Culture by Design for Leaders programme addresses these common pitfalls by providing a holistic and integrated approach to leadership development.

  1. Context-Specific Training: We tailor our training to the specific needs of high-hazard industries. Our programmes consider each sector's unique risks and operational challenges, ensuring leaders are well-equipped to handle their specific environments.
  2. Integrating Learning with Real Work: Our approach includes on-site safety observation and coaching, embedding learning within the actual work environment. This ensures that leaders can immediately apply what they’ve learned and receive real-time feedback.
  3. Mindset Transformation: We focus on emotional literacy, conversational intelligence, and psychological safety to help leaders develop the necessary self-awareness and behavioural flexibility. This helps in addressing the root causes of behaviour and fosters genuine change.
  4. Ongoing Support and Measurement: We provide continuous support through personalised coaching, workshops, and masterclasses. Our programmes include clear objectives and methods for measuring success, ensuring that the impact of training is sustained over time.

Future Directions of your Leadership Training

We can cultivate better future leaders by encouraging companies to start the coaching journey early. Millennials and future generations, in particular, will not tolerate a lack of development and will move on to organisations that offer the support they seek.

Young leaders will be practising on the job, trained or not. Let's introduce training and coaching early in the leadership journey and make the pendulum swing a fun and productive experience.

In Summary

Navigating the pendulum swing between technical roles and leadership positions is challenging. Still, with the proper support and coaching, individuals can thrive. We can create a generation of influential, resilient leaders by addressing the gaps in leadership training and focusing on continuous development.

At Safety Collaborations, we are committed to making this vision a reality through our innovative Safety Culture by Design for Leaders programme. Together, we can transform the leadership development landscape and build a safer, more effective workforce.

Safety Culture by Design for Leaders

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