Why You Need to Stop Outsourcing Your Leadership Development

Posted February 7, 2017 in Leadership

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at the HRPA Annual Conference on a topic that’s near and dear to my heart… the over outsourcing of leadership development to external providers. I recognize the irony in this… I am also an external provider of leadership development, so what’s my point? In a nutshell, I think well intentioned HR leaders are over coddling their managers by outsourcing too many things (like coaching and leadership development) to external consultants and coaches. If you currently outsource the majority of your leadership learning to other people, here are 3 reasons to stop:

  1. You’re not doing your leaders any favours. In fact, you’re stifling their growth when you outsource coaching and development. Today we are in the Conceptual Age which requires collaboration, invention and innovation. We REQUIRE leaders to be able to work together, to engage with peers, to harvest ideas. We need to provide platforms and opportunities where they can engage and exchange ideas; where they can broaden their thinking about the business in real time…not in some isolated classroom or with an external coach who doesn’t understand the context of their job. Peer learning and coaching communities allow leaders to exchange and connect together. They can learn from each other and share best practices. They can build their coaching skills while broadening their understanding of the business.
  2. Soft skills are nonnegotiable. In the field of learning, we have entered the age of Collaboration. This demands that leaders have strong people skills and soft skills. Outsourcing 1:1 coaching in particular doesn’t give your leaders the opportunity to practice and further develop their skills. Saying ‘our people aren’t ready to coach each other’ is a lame excuse that simply limits the potential of your line managers. Believe me… they’re ready and they need to have multiple opportunities to practice so that they increase their confidence in the arena of coaching. Sure, there are times when an external coach is vitally helpful, but too often issues are being ‘outsourced’ when they should be managed by the internal coach. And, let’s face it, people who have being working with the same coach for more then 2 years are no longer in a ‘coaching’ relationship… they’ve entered the zone of the ‘paid friend’ and organizations should be heavily evaluating the return on that type of investment. Coaching should have a specific goal and purpose and then should end. It shouldn’t be some perpetual, never ending engagement.
  3. You learn leadership by doing. Ask many external consultants and coaches how many people they lead and manage on a day-to-day basis and you’ll likely find that most don’t manage anyone at all. There’s a saying…’those who can’t do, teach.’ But teaching without understanding context is a challenge for even the most skilled coach. By giving your own leaders to tools to teach and coach each other, you are providing them with the skills they need to be successful and the ability to adapt their learning into the context of the situation they’re facing. And, as a working leader myself, leadership is evolving and dynamic and doing it every day is the only way to stay sharp and close to the realities that every leader faces. We have so much ‘untapped wisdom’ in our organizations of leaders who have mountains of experience to share but no platform to share it through.

I really believe that we grossly underestimate the ability of line leaders to cultivate their leadership skills with each other. As one of our clients expressed so well…’when you bring in someone from the outside, they feed you for one day. When you give us the tools to feed ourselves, we will continue to grow.’

I believe that we are about to face a massive shift in terms of what leadership looks like in our organizations, how we are meant to lead and how we can best support leaders in developing the skills needed to be successful today. There is no question in my mind that organizations that cultivate learning communities of leaders will be well poised to meet this shifting tide.

If you’d like to learn more about how we equip leaders to cultivate their leadership together, please check out our Roundtable Catalyst program and Roundtable for Leaders Peer Program.

Happy leading!


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