As I travel across the country speaking with executives about leadership development, I encounter the same question in almost every meeting. The question: “What’s the ROI that we should count on when investing in developing future leaders?” 

Valid question. 

I, however, believe it is the wrong question. Why? Because human beings can’t be scaled like a business process. There is a uniqueness and individuality component that comes into play with everyone that is being developed. Every person has their own opportunities for growth and strengths to leverage. Herein lies my point: looking for a hard percentage of individual growth is impossible to predict. It may be even harder to define. 

The question I believe we should be asking is as follows: “What are the behaviors we want to see demonstrated by our future leaders who will one day be responsible for the execution and decision making in this organization?” 

Now, I know business owners make tough decisions on a daily basis. They are challenged with addressing things like sales numbers, production costs, delivery accuracy, overhead, P&L statements, company culture, employee satisfaction, and much, much more. It’s the norm. It comes with the territory.  

The business owners we work with, more often than not, define one of their greatest challenges to be the consistency of their people. This is not to say they have made the wrong hires or assembled the wrong teams. It does, however, tend to fall on the management and leadership structure. 

World-class leadership and management skills are rare in today’s 21st-century workforce. The data surrounding engagement numbers and attrition rates prove that even in this economy (with a sub 4% unemployment rate), companies are continuing to experience poor leadership and management. 

So, I ask you this: why are we not spending the necessary time developing the muscle-memory habits and skills that are required for our leaders to be great? Why do we continue to view these skills as a suggestion instead of a requirement? 

Over 40% of people in today’s workforce report to a younger boss. And that percentage will only continue to grow as Baby Boomers retire and Millennials fill the 18-million-person gap between Boomers and Gen Xers. Much like the highly-regulated industries who require ongoing training for technical skills, we must take a long look at not only how we are evolving the leadership skills of our existing leaders, but also how we are preparing our leadership pipeline.

Leadership is not a philosophical discussion. It’s a skillset that needs to be developed and cultivated.