The changing face of leadership development

by Miriam Bell11 Sep 2012

The growing demand for dynamic leaders has been complicated by ongoing global economic turbulence but a recently-released research paper offers companies a range of advice on how revamp their leadership development programs.

Canny, far-sighted companies need to focus on developing leaders from within their own ranks, along with building and maintaining leadership pipelines, according to the paper from US-based L&D consultants Bersin & Associates. They also need to comprehensively analyse the gaps in knowledge or performance that their program is intended to fill, the consultants’ head researcher David Mellon said.

Mellon added that those people responsible for designing leadership programs, such as HR professionals, must be aware of the following issues:


  • The importance of informal learning
  • The power of new technologies
  • The differing needs and expectations of new generation employees
  • The increasingly “borderless” global workplace
  • The inability of current practices to solve new challenges; and
  • The changing nature of today’s learning programmes - which are now shorter, more social, media-driven, mobile, on-demand, experiential and environmental.


The aim of any leadership development program should be to have employees learn at the speed of today’s workplace, in ways appropriate to the challenges and conditions of today’s workplace, and as close to the workplace as possible, Mellon said. “To achieve lasting and substantial benefits, learning experiences must apply to real organisational issues and take place in small, collaborative cohorts.”

The best leadership development programs integrate formal experiences (such as in-person classroom time) with informal technology-based tools and processes, social and embedded learning opportunities, and coaching, he said. “Also, state-of-the-art leadership development now occurs in the context of ongoing work initiatives that are tied to strategic business imperatives.... But, in order to foster acceptance and adoption, leadership teams must assess the current company culture, and lay out a clear strategy for change and adoption.”

The next generation of leadership development is not revolutionary - instead it returns to a “back to basics” approach by combining the best practices of face-to-face training and coaching with new technologies, Mellon said. “It’s really a modern twist on the priceless age-old relationship between expert and novice.”


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