Just because we hand somebody a new set of tools, it does not make him a carpenter. Many corporate initiatives in leader development do the same thing. They hand out good tools and wonder why the people aren’t becoming better leaders.

The Right Stuff

The Global Leadership Forecast, conducted every two years by PDI found that despite an increase in spending and increased focus on leader development, leaders in the business world are not getting any better.

Perhaps we are focusing on the wrong things or at least focusing on the right things in the wrong order.

“What the heart desires, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.” 
– Thomas Cranmer

The Wrong Stuff in the Wrong Order

The majority of leader development focuses on management skills. MBA programs focus on understanding organizational structures, financial management, and marketing among other things.

Corporate training get’s closer to the point when they focus on employee engagement, coaching techniques, and team building exercises.

We spend a lot of time focused on what the leader does to other people in order to get the people to do the things the leader wants them to do.

The problem is people don’t follow leaders because of what they can do. People follow leaders because of WHO THEY ARE – their Character.

When a leader fails, it is rarely because they didn’t know what to do or how to do it. The failure occurs when a leader has a choice between the harder right and the easier wrong and they choose the easier wrong. That is a failure in Character.

But we spend minimal amount of time discussing who the leader is as a person – THEIR CHARACTER.

Until leader programs dedicate time and effort towards the #1 reason leaders fail and the #1 reason people follow, the leader development efforts of most companies will be ineffective.

The Right Stuff in the Right Order

If you want to accomplish something you have never accomplished before you need to start doing things you have never done before. If we want to improve our leaders, we need to change how we approach leader development. We must increase our focus on Character and make it the first thing we talk about.

Instead of starting with the brain, we need to start with changing the heart.  It has to do with the structure of the human brain.

In his best selling book, Start With Why?, Simon Sinek makes the case that appealing to someone through reasoning does little to change their behaviors. You must engage their emotions first (the limbic system) and then their reasoning will follow.  Here is a link to his TED Talk on this subject:

Video:  Start with Why?

To truly improve the impact of our leader development efforts, we must start with Character – WHO WE ARE. Unless we start with with what the leader needs to change about themselves, we will probably continue to see marginal impact of our leader training programs.

The Bottom Line:

Don’t start developing leaders in the middle of the process. Start at the begining. Start with the #1 reason people follow leaders and the #1 reason people fail as leaders – CHARACTER.

We need to start with the development of the individual Character of the leader before we start handing them the tools to be a manager. The tools we are handing out are not bad tools, we just need to be sure we are giving them to the right person with the right character.

Trust me, I have a set of tools in my garage, but you do not want be coming over to fix your back porch!

Until we address Character, the leader development efforts in most organizations will continue to be handing good tools to people who are not prepared to use them properly.


What topics of character do you believe need to be discussed in leader development programs?

Dave Anderson is coauthor of the Amazon Best-Seller Becoming a Leader of Character – Six Habits that Make or Break a Leader at Work and at Home with his father General James L. Anderson (USA Retired).

You can order Becoming a Leader of Character on Amazon by clicking here:


You can also find Becoming a Leader of Character at Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million and other retailers.