When 500 executives were asked to rank their top three human capital priorities, leadership development was highlighted as a current and future priority, with two thirds rating it as their number one concern.

Yet only 7% of senior managers polled by a UK business school think that their companies develop global leaders effectively*

This doesn’t surprise me. Over a number of years, I have reached the conclusion that some organisations invest a lot of money in leadership development but the end product can overemphasise importance of the behavioural side of leadership, as if it is an end in itself rather than a means of delivering results. The fact is, a lot of practitioners haven’t been near the coalface for a long time.

I don’t underestimate the importance of emotional intelligence for example, or the mindful leader, but it often seems that coaches and leadership programme designers specialise in these areas but fail to understand the needs of a CEO to turn this into hard results, delivering sustainable success. CEOs will tell you they need capability now and in the future, but home grown talent is often wasted and lost.

On the other hand, some organisations don’t invest anything like enough in developing their leaders. It becomes ‘another HR course’ if it exists at all. Senior leaders are simply not taking ownership of the programmes. The need for an individual to embark on development is seen as a weakness and suitable only for those at the next level down.

Conversely, in some larger organisations a place on an open programme at a top business school can all too often be given as a reward rather than as a necessary and targeted step in the individual’s development.


The Primary Colours Model of Leadership

At Change Associates we have adopted the Primary Colours® Model of Leadership developed by David Pendleton, visiting lecturer of Said Business School, and a practitioner and advisor to business. Together with Adrian Furnham of UCL, a prolific writer on the subject of business and leadership psychology, he penned ‘Leadership – All You Need to Know’ (published by Palgrave MacMillan).

“If only it were that easy!” you might say.

I’d encourage you to take a look – the model of leadership that David and Adrian present really is easy in concept. And as a highly practical concept it can be straightforward in execution too.

It’s a breath of fresh air.

So how do you ensure the effectiveness of leadership development? Using the Primary Colours® model as a guide, it’s about balance and context.

Balance is about ensuring leadership teams have the right level of focus on the strategic domain; the operational domain; and the interpersonal domain. Heads, hands and hearts – working together.

The approach is strengths-based, allowing for fragile strengths and resistant limitations, where the individual relies on others to plug the gap rather than struggle with a weakness.

Context is about applying the model to real situations, real challenges, or real deployment of a new strategy.


Some leadership programmes fail because the organisational context is lost. It’s essential to understand what the programme is for, focussing on the capability required to achieve what needs to be achieved. It can’t be a one size fits all programme covering a multitude of competencies.

The McKinsey quarterly article I quote at the start of this blog goes on to say that we risk decoupling reflection on these programmes from real work, back at base. Within a short period the real value of attending a programme becomes lost.

Equally, the authors say, leadership development programme often fail to tackle the underlying mind-set that becomes a barrier to changing behaviour.

Programmes can be too comfortable – failing to challenge and failing to recognise that discomfort is a natural sensation when going through change.

Heads, hands and hearts operating and developing within an organisational context. It’s a recipe for success and an achievable one.


*Why leadership development programs fail,
Gurdjian, Halbeisen and Lane, McKinsey Quarterly January 2014

Photo (C) Shutterstock | fizkes
Grahame Russell

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