The Future of Leadership Development

‘ In ice hockey they teach you to skate not to where the puck is, but to where it is going next – Robert Braucher, Harvard Law School.

It is the where to next  that I want to focus on in this blog article and I believe if we ask the question where to next  often enough leadership development will always impact current realities.

Several trends are now developing which challenge its current understanding and the practice of leadership and leadership development.

  1. Leadership competencies will remain important but not as the dominant feature of all leadership development practices.
  2. An increasing awareness in the integrity and character of leaders.
  3. New ways of thinking about the nature of leadership and its development..

Leadership competencies will still matter, but they will change to what has been termed ‘adaptive competencies’ which are more relevant to the current global demand for rapid change. Five critical forces will shape leadership competencies in the future; intense global competition, information technology, rapid thinking and flexible organisations, effective teams and differing employee needs. This calls for a leader who can motivate and coordinate a team -based approach. The environment will have greater ambiguity and uncertainty and many if not all aspects of applied leadership will require a more collaborative approach. The model of effective leadership in the future will be one that encourages environments that unleash the entire organisation’s human asset potential.

The report, Developing Business Leaders for 2010 …..and beyond, (Barrett and Beeson, 2010); Identified four essential roles for meeting business/global challenges in the future and what they term individual career detractors. These roles include being a master strategist, a change agent, a relationship/network builder and talent developer (of other). The most important career detractors in the future include; hesitancy to take risks, personal arrogance and an insensitive controlling leadership style coupled with a reluctance to tackle complex people issues.

Leaders will be exposed  to how the world is becoming inter-dependent and the need to be ahead up to date coupled with a good knowledge of emerging trends that are vital to overall success at a multitude of different levels. Leader feedback and reflection will continue to be a critical factor in the development cycle, as it has more to do with how people think rather than just there interactions with others. Its the development of the whole person that reflects a commitment to the value of self-directed change and growth. Most leadership development programs in the future will include action based activities in the work place to enhance leader self-awareness an create balance inclusive of the relationship between health, fitness and leadership.

Effective leadership is always central to organisational success, therefore the need for leadership development is now more critical than ever before. However, developing more and better individual leaders can no longer be the sole focus although it will always remain a critical aspect. It is becoming increasingly evident that leadership is defined not as what the leader does but rather as to how it is processed that engenders other and is the result of relationship networking – relationships that focus on the interactions of both leader and collaborator.

Leadership practices based on this paradigm are more difficult to design and implement than those that have been popular for the last few decades in which the objective was to train leaders to be good managers (functional leadership). Ultimately the goal of leadership development must involve action the how, not purely knowledge based, the what. Therefore leadership development practices today provide opportunities to learn and transform (transformational leadership), within each engagement and context.

Such an emerging perspective on the changing nature of leadership will have a profound affect  on our thinking about leadership development in the future. There is now recognition that leadership and leadership development must be seen as inherently collaborative, social and relational. As a result, in the future, leadership will be understood as the collective capacity of all within an organisation to accomplish the critical task ; of setting direction; creating alignment and gaining commitment.

‘Taking this step will require a deeper understanding of the role of organisation systems and its culture of leadership’ ( Van Velsor & McCauley 2004).    

What is clear is that the dual challenge of  understanding the nature of leadership development as well as implementing coherent effective leadership development practices is now greater than ever before. However, we remain guardedly optimistic. This optimism is directly linked to some of the emerging trends that make the future both challenging and interesting. To succeed, leadership development practices will need to become better integrated into the broader context of current challenges and systems. Organisations will not only need to hire and develop , they will also need to be the kind of organisations that nurture and reinforce enactment of the kinds of behaviors desired of there leaders.

Meeting these challenges will provide an important thrust of a more comprehensive effort in the years ahead to demonstrate effectively the strategic role that people play in organisations. This must extend to and include the youth of the day and a call to those that lead and influence them to rise to the challenge of creating a different future.