Jan 28, 2022 | Leadership

Why do some leadership workshops fail to deliver results?

Some lessons for Coaches, Consultants and Trainers

Leadership development is rarely about fixing people. But inspiring people to adapt, learn, experiment and to accept the challenge has to live and breathe 52 weeks of the year.

Grow More Leaders

Leadership Development is big business

According to a 2019 Forbes Magazine article, the leadership development industry is a $366b industry, but many leadership programmes fail to deliver the intended results.

When it comes to results from leadership programmes, the success is open to interpretation. Organisations have different justification and needs for developing their leaders. In the majority of cases, it is to accelerate the development of soft skills e.g.; coaching, influencing and the people-side of big change. It can also be to act as a catalyst for driving up higher employee engagement, retaining talent or supporting a culture change programme.

Why do so many leadership programmes fail to deliver?

Whatever the desired outcome, why do so many leadership programmes fail to deliver results? We offer 5 explanations:

  1. The business case is unclear, nor the outcomes and results

For a leadership programme to work there has to be real clarity on ‘the why’. Why are you here and what are the expectations of the business? Any ambiguity or weakness in this set-up, means participants see the programme as useful but not mission critical. Even a slight dip in motivation and understanding, can add up to weakening the impact of any leadership programme.

Leadership programmes that deliver positive results, typically have several key players talking about the challenges for the business. The mindset, culture and behaviours required. They may talk about why this matters and how to shift from the current reality to the new reality. They bring it to life with stories and anecdotes. They may use customer or supplier feedback on what needs to change and what ‘first movers’ in the marketplace are doing and how they’re capturing market share and customer loyalty as a result of being agile. This level of clarity and communication needs to be constantly refreshed and regularly reinforced, well ahead of colleagues attending a leadership workshop.

An invaluable additional step is to ask workshop participants to write their own motivation for being on the programme. What are their goals? How will they know in 12 months time they’re more effective than now?

Imagine if your workshop participants, associated pausing for a coffee, with picking up a journal and investing 10-minutes to note down ‘how I’m a better leader today, than this time last week’?

Grow More Leaders


  1. There is no follow-up to ensure the learning is being implemented

Typically, anything not implemented or applied within 10 days of leaving a leadership workshop is unlikely to get done. Memory fades. Good intentions get forgotten. Commitments wane. That’s why follow-up actions are so important. These can take the form of one-to-one development coaching to support individuals with creating behavioural change. Or peer-to-peer coaching, action-learning groups and not least the role of the line Manager and HR Business Partner. Even asking individuals to keep a video diary or journal of their actions and their self-insights, is a positive reinforcement.

We often propose our leadership workshop participants share with their team, the learning they took from the programme and the help they need from them to help implement plans and ideas.

Any follow-up action has to outweigh the mighty gravitational pull of past habits. No leader, no matter how bright and able, can succeed alone. The more you reinforce a learning ‘ecosystem’ the more you increase the probability of successful results.

  1. There are no upsides or consequences for adopting or ignoring the leadership imperatives

As human beings we follow the path of least resistance. Our lives are busy. We rarely have the time to stop, pause and reflect. We get driven along by the ‘urgent’ and the important things get way-laid. We might have the best of intentions, but they can go unfulfilled.

All the more reason why we need positive reinforcements. We are more likely to pursue an activity if we can see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It can be some form of certificate, a financial bonus, a leader chart, some public recognition or membership to an ‘exclusive club’.

However, for some individuals penalties truly grab their attention. The fear of not getting a pay-grade, or seen as being a high performer, or not getting a promotion, due to not role modelling the right type of leadership can push them to take action. Sadly in too many organisations you can be a poor leader, but still hold a senior role, due to the fact you have strong technical skills, you hit your numbers, or you get things done.

People show acts of daily leadership outside work. They manage their household budget, teach their kids, coach the under 14s hockey team, raise money for charity. But somehow, are fearful of bringing this spirit to work.

Grow More Leaders


  1. Leadership development is reserved for ‘the few’ not ‘the many’

The impact of leadership programmes diminishes when you limit them to a certain pay-grade or level. Clearly, sending senior players off to a business school can be expensive. Even if those senior leaders have powerful revelations, they come back as transformed individuals, inspired and committed to changing lives… this counts for nothing, if they can’t inspire others. Whilst those senior players have been on a 10-day residential leadership workshop, the rest of the business has not changed. It has the same issues, culture and challenges. A small group of ‘inspired’ leaders can find it hard if not impossible to turn around a whole organisation. Unless that whole organisation has some variation of the same leadership workshop or course the senior players have been on. 

Unless the vast majority of employees have gone through a shared experience (albeit at different times), you won’t get traction or momentum. That’s why it pays to take a ‘cross-section’ of the organisation on a leadership development journey to pilot ideas and behaviour change. Taking a horizontal slice (e.g., senior players) and hoping they can inspire more leaders is a big ask, unless they get the support of Coaches and Facilitators. 

  1. Leadership development is seen as ‘an event’ and not a way of being

For too many people, learning and leadership happens at a workshop or event. It’s a type of conditioning. So they end up missing hundreds of small daily opportunities to coach, develop, offer feedback, inspire, motivate, celebrate…we pay attention to the things we consider important. And being a strong leader is rarely at the top of anyone’s to-do list. Operational issues and problem solving are seen as ‘real work’ and consume our time and attention. Developing leaders at every level, collaboration, team development and creating a great place to work, are often deprioritised. There is no burning platform, which keeps this front of mind.

Any leadership programme has to overcome this ‘conditioning’ – leadership happens on formal training events. Find ways workshop participants allocate their time. Invite them to look at their schedule for the next 3 months and to run an experiment. What would happen if over the next 3 months they:

  • Did more listening than talking in every meeting
  • Scheduled a 30-minute weekly one-to-one with each team member
  • Invested 30-minutes a week to keep a learning journal and to discuss it with a peer
  • Asked for feedback on their leadership effectiveness from one person each week
  • Positively encourage their team to lead, take more accountability and reinforce a great place to work.

Want to improve leadership within your team? 

Taking a leadership development course like Game Changers: Personal Leadership Programme can ensure you develop the correct leadership skills to motivate and inspire your team, whilst getting the results you want. All successful leadership starts with personal leadership.  

Latest Blog Posts
Achieve more