Leadership Development vs Leader Development

Leadership Development vs Leader Development

It is helpful to consider what is commonly called ‘leadership training’ as actually being ‘leader training’.There is a difference, especially regarding application of leadership, and it matters.

Recently I met with a well seasoned ‘Leadership Development’ trainer. She is deeply dedicated to the development of people, and has devoted her career to Leadership Development. This trainer said she noticed me being quoted as saying “leadership development is some of the most important work on the planet at this time”. And so she asked for a meeting because she had a BIG question.

Her question, quite simply was “Why is my leadership development training not getting the results that my customers need?” I asked her if she thought her training was good. She replied that her training was excellent. Her belief was because she always received very positive comments in her evaluations. The trainer was clearly a person who gave her training her best. She believed in her work and loved it. She was also very upset by her customers not getting the results that they needed to from the training.

I asked her the obvious next question which was “based on the fact that your training is rated as excellent, why have you come to believe that it is not getting the results that your customers need?” She answered that in the past, she had based the measurement of success of her training on the evaluation.

Recently she had shifted her perspective. She was now following up with the customers after a few months asking for evaluations of the impact of the training. She was looking for evidence of impact of the training in how the leader carried out leadership. Another marker of success was sustainability in leadership improvements. She was measuring this in relation to a baseline collected prior to the training. She was dismayed in what she discovered. In fact, some of her customers let her know that there seemed to be a bigger gap between their leadership team and the workforce after the leadership development training.

We discussed what she included in her leadership development training.  It was a very well put together self awareness training program. The program was for the individual leaders combined with exercises to improve the team cohesion of the leadership team. I nodded my head affirmatively as I had been expecting this answer.

The Difference Between Leader Development and Leadership Development

To me, it was clear that she offered a ‘leader development’ training program, not a ‘leadership development’ program. She was puzzled at my distinction between the two. I said “most leadership development training programs that I have encountered are aimed at self awareness for the development of the individual leader.  On occasion, such as with your training program, you offer the program to a leadership or management team. This allows you to also work on their teamwork. It remains very much about self awareness and self development…of the individual and of the team.” She agreed that this was so.

Leaders, upon finishing their training, are not necessarily in a state of readiness or engagement to carry out the actions of leadership. This is the difference between leadership development and applying leadership.  What is usually called leadership development training is actually more accurately described as leader development. It is training that centers in self awareness for the development of the individual leader within themselves. Leadership Development must be more focused on how to apply leadership in the external world.

Applying Leadership

What’s missing is a key ingredient. They did not necessarily receive sufficient leadership development training to apply leadership in the day to day activities of the organization.  When the going gets tough or enters some unknown territory for applying leadership, It is much easier, and feels less scary…to go back to business as usual…before the training. There is even greater importance in learning how to apply leadership in these times of stress. This is the real art of leadership development training and it is usually neglected in what we tend to refer to as ‘leadership development training’ in today’s workplaces.

Extraordinary Leadership Development

This difference between leader development and leadership development was a key takeaway for the trainer who I was exploring this topic with. It was clear to her that what was needed was learning more about applying leadership and making some small shifts in her trainings to incorporate leadership development in addition to the leader development she was already offering.

A simple way for her to access these learnings was to join the Extraordinary Leadership Network and follow the Leadership Development in a coffee break series to get tips, guidance, and knowledge for applying leadership development. She did and within days put her initial learning to use. She has been applying what she has learned for only a month at this point, and she has let me know that her trainees are already reporting about applying their learning.

In our offering of leadership development, we develop people in all levels of the organization to apply leadership. We also provide tools and skill development for creating and nourishing a culture of leadership so that leadership, once learned, is sustainable.

What are you thinking now about the distinction between leader development training and leadership development training? Share your reflections in a comment below.


  • Birgitt Williams

    Birgitt, as well as being a Co-owner, is a Co-founder of the Genuine Contact program. She is an international management and organizational solutions consultant, author, meeting facilitator, teacher, and executive coach. Visit her website for more information.

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