Why Leadership Development Doesn’t Work

Alan R. Zimmerman, "The Payoff Principle: Discover the 3 Secrets for Getting What You Want Out of Life and Work”

Why Leadership Development Doesn’t Work

The Problem

When you ask CEO’s what they want out of life and work, the two most common responses are “I just want to be happy” and “I want to be successful.”  And most CEO’s work very hard to achieve those and a number of other goals.

God bless them.  They work and work and work to achieve a measure of happiness and success.  Good for them!  After all, as I tell my audiences, it would be very embarrassing to be an unsuccessful workaholic.

However, most leaders (CEO’s included) do not achieve all the personal and professional success they could.  Because they’re using strategies that have almost no chance of bringing about the huge payoffs they’re looking for.  

Three Ineffective Approaches

Mind you, I’m not blaming those leaders for being less than totally effective.   The well-intentioned business experts have naively misled current and potential leaders by teaching an approach to leadership development that cannot and will not bring about the results that leaders want and need these days. 

This is not a conclusion that I came by lightly.  It was my conclusion after 30 years of research, reading hundreds of books on leadership development, corporate culture, performance management, communication, motivation, quality, change, excellence, teamwork, human capital, self-esteem, emotional intelligence, productivity, relationship building, conflict resolution, and the behavior of champions.   I listened to every educational recording I could find on the skills related to leadership development. I filled twelve bookcases with books, eight file cabinets with notes, and then a few computer hard drives with information.

I discovered that the field of leadership development split into one of three camps.  One camp says “purpose” is the key to success.  Indeed, books on “the power of purpose” and having a “purpose-driven life” flood the marketplace.   

However, you probably know someone who has an admirable purpose—such as satisfying stockholders or solving customer problems—but you also hear them say things like “Another day, another dollar,” or “I’ve just got four more years, three months and two days and I’m out of here.” They’ve got a purpose but they haven’t got too much to show for it.

A second camp in the field of leadership development focuses on “passion” or attitude. And they offer lofty advice, saying such things as “attitude is everything” and “a positive attitude always works.”  However, I’m sure you know some leaders who are little rays of sunshine, who are always upbeat and positive, but when it comes to real, bottom-line results, they fall below the mark.

A third camp claims “process” is the secret to leadership success. They focus almost entirely on getting the job done.  Unfortunately, that kind of leadership development creates a workplace filled with technically competent people who know very little about the people skills that go into any successful outcome. 

In and of themselves, the three camps of purpose, passion, and process are good.  But the chances of a leader achieving all his dreams of success by focusing on just one of those three areas are pretty slim.

It’s like the story of the blind men touching an elephant and describing what the animal was like. One man focused on the elephant’s trunk and said an elephant is like a big hose. Another man touched only the elephant’s ear and reported that the animal was like a large fan. Still another man focused on one of the elephant’s legs and said the animal was like a tree trunk.

Each of them was right, but each of them was also wrong. By focusing on a part of the elephant instead of the entire creature, none of them got a complete or accurate picture of the elephant.

That’s exactly what is wrong with so many of today’s leadership development programs.  So let me suggest a comprehensive approach that is totally transformational.  It is…

The Payoff Principle

The Payoff Principle says, “When you find purpose in what you do, exhibit passion for the outcome, and master the process to make it happen, you produce the payoffs you want, need, and deserve.” Stated as a formula, Purpose + Passion + Process = Payoff.

After delivering more than 2000 leadership programs around the world, I know that when you implement The Payoff Principle, nothing can stop you. But if you don’t have purpose, passion, and process, nothing can help you except finding the purpose, passion, and process that will give you the payoffs you want.

In my mind, looks like this. 



When leaders grasp and follow The Payoff Principle, their lives and the world around them changes. Nelson Mandela, the leader of South Africa, understood that.  He said, “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” In other words, “a good head” (or the right processes) and “a good heart” (in purpose and passion), bring about payoffs that can change the course of history.

Lee Labrada gets it.  Using The Payoff Principle, he became Mr. Universe, winning twenty-two professional bodybuilding titles, and founded Labrada Nutrition, a company that became one of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the US—earning Inc. 500 status—in only six years.  To achieve success, he tells his hundreds of thousands of followers that it takes three things:  a life of purpose or service, a passion so strong you’re willing to sacrifice short-term gains for long-term results, and a process of never-ending elf-improvement regimen.

The bad news is there’s no shortcut on the road to success.  The good news is leadership development programs can and do when all three elements of The Payoff Principle are addressed.  

About the Author

As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman has given more than 2000 leadership programs across the world.  In his book, “The Payoff Principle: Discover the 3 Secrets for Getting What You Want Out of Life and Work,” Dr. Zimmerman outlines the exact steps you must take to be a peak performer any situation.