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Trends in Leadership Development and Implications for their Implementation

Updated: May 25, 2020

Everyone wants to know what the global trends are for this thing or the next so that they can know if they measure up. Am I on par? As innovator in the space of leadership development, I am usually more interested in whether I am ahead or have an edge that makes me different from all the rest, but, I acknowledge the value of looking at the patterns evident in large scale social behavior, if only to see what not to do. Was I pleasantly surprised! What the trends indicate we ought to do, is not what we see prominent leaders doing worldwide.

By following the trends, we may be doing something truly radical.

So, here you will find an analysis of six different sources dealing with the global trends in leadership development. I did this analysis to understand how a leadership coach and consultant should think about her own work in response to these trends. I also thought it would be valuable for organisations to see if their own leadership development strategies are on par with world trends and how they should judge the value of various leadership development options. In the top row I identify the source from which the information was drawn. They have been organised from the most predominant trend to the least prevalent trend. Once you have taken the time to go through the analysis, you may read my interpretation for implementation afterwards.


Implications for leadership development implementation:

As mainly an innovator of learning methodology (see my work on strategic narrative embodiment) you can imagine my delight to find that this was the most prevalent trend. All reports, bar one, emphasise that the method of learning needs to change drastically from a classic training room type transmission of knowledge to something that incorporates both online learning platforms and peer, or social sharing processes.

Interestingly, the latter is in all five and the former in only four of these sources. Collaborative learning, support networks and knowledge sharing is higher on the priority list than eLearning platforms that simply distribute knowledge. Of course, this social kind of learning can be very effectively mediated by technology through social media solutions, chatrooms and networking technologies, but it is not the technological aspect that is emphasised, but the social collaborative aspect.

This is good news for coaches and consultants since holding such a social learning group and ensuring equal contribution and adequate reflection is more easily obtained through the facilitation of a skilled process guide – especially if that facilitator can employ online rooms for such holding.

Of course, when a service provider does employ e-learning platforms for the transmission of information, the emphasis should be on brevity rather than depth and include conversational interactive processes for embedding or reflecting on the learning. It should also make room for personalisation and individualisation allowing participants to determine their own progress, or the sequence of learning.

The good news for coaches and consultants are that, if we combine the various insights above, individual support for the specific interpretation of learning for the unique and complex realities of individual leaders and individual organisations is still a huge need. There is plenty of room for people who can offer guidance and help make sense of learned principles in specific circumstances, as well as for supporting the leader or the organisation through the process of understanding and making sense of, on one hand the context and complexities of organisational life and, on the other, the overwhelming influx of information that is constantly changing and needing to be updated.

The combined needs identified by trends 2 and 3 above: the need for collective leadership and the requirement for leaders who have good people skills (which also speak to the need to improve employee’s levels of engagement) is likewise good news for leadership coaches and facilitators. This is because such skills can not be learned through classic class room downloads, whether face to face or online. It can only be learned in real time people saturated contexts. It needs to be learned either on the job with the support of a coach, or in a space where role-plays and simulations can be used as rehearsals for real issues.

While theoretical insights can be drawn from systems theory and neuro-science to understand social systems on one hand and the individual brain on the other, it makes more sense to use what these theories tell us by employing more diverse learning methods that include experiential, embodied and action learning processes. This implies that social learning methods such as applied performance, applied improvisation and story-telling should be employed.

So, whether you are a leader needing to develop the skills to thrive in the present and future, or you are a leadership development coach and consultant, it is more:

  1. Important to value collaboration and social learning over technology and information – true for working with your team as well as working with customers;

  2. Effective to learn through holistic, experiential and embodied processes than through outdated transmission methods that will only teach how important collaboration, experience and embodiment is;

  3. Important to be agile, curious and action orientated with the support of a coach or group facilitator than to learn about agility, curiosity and action orientation in an e-learning course.

So, how do we create our edge?

Underlying all the talk of collective leadership, collaboration and cross team integration or context agility, is the need to make room for and leverage diversity. If one person could understand it all, collaboration would not be needed. Instead there is an acknowledgement that people don’t know the same things. Nor do they know in the same ways.

Some know by taking in information, some through observation, others through trying things and others through reflecting on experiences. More-over, knowledge is now understood to reside not only in the mind, but also in the body, in the heart and in the social system. This includes cultural knowledge and geographical contextual knowledge needed to satisfy different customer populations.

What none of these trend resources say is that a singular view of right and wrong, good and bad or profitable vs unprofitable is useful. To collaborate with your team, satisfy your customer, engage your employees or train your millennials, you must engage ‘the other’. This is an ironic insight in a world where new forms of authoritarianism, fascism and corporate greed seems to arise.

How do we then respond to the above trends that call for openness, listening and learning rather than for oversimplified ideas of how things ought to be and who should profit? What will be the result if we do not adhere to the call to collaborate, share leadership and spread responsibility, but rather go back to centralisation, control and power hoarding?

We have a unique opportunity here to really develop an edge, a way to be different from the rest by responding with enthusiasm to the trends in learning and development identified above, rather than to the trends in leadership and governance practices we see across the globe.

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